Daniel Chapter 4: The Deterioration Of The Ruler!

Daniel Chapter 4: The Deterioration Of The Ruler!

Kenneth Humphries

A special character attaches to this chapter from the fact that it contains a communication or letter, written by Nebuchadnezzar himself, and addressed to "all people, nations, and languages, that dwells in all the earth." He had been favoured with many signs from God through Daniel's interpretation of his dream in Daniel Ch.2, and in connection with the deliverance of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the power of the flames in Daniel Ch.3, and, under the momentary impressions produced, he had confessed Daniel's God to be a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a Revealer of secrets, and that there was no god that could deliver as the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. His heart, however, was unchanged; but in the narrative before us, which again is both historic and prophetic, we are permitted to see the way in which this idolatrous king is brought at last to "praise and extol and honour the King of Heaven" (Daniel Ch.3v37). Read in its conscience and heart to the testimony which reached him through the prophet Daniel, and that he thus became a servant of the "Most High." The proof of this lies in the royal communication to all his subjects. He desires that every person in his dominions should be made acquainted with his "conversion." The address of the letter has already been noticed; and a salutation, (Peace be multiplied unto you) follows this, which in its form is almost apostolic. Compare 1 Peter 1v2. In Daniel Ch.4vv2-3 he concisely states the object he has in addressing his subjects: "I thought it good to show the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me"; and then his heart overflows in admiration as he recalls what God had wrought, exclaiming, "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." It is a good thing when the soul is constrained to confess what God has wrought by His grace; for, as the apostle teaches, “if the heart believes unto righteousness, it is with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans Ch.10v10). This is truly a proclamation ending in praise and it is due to God that confession should be made, and when made it turns to a testimony for His glory. Following upon this, he gives his own personal circumstances at the time when this new message from God reached him. "I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in mine house, and flourishing in my palace" (Daniel Ch.4v4). He had attained the summit of all human ambition. Monarch of all the kingdoms of the earth, his authority undisputed, prosperous in all his undertakings, with nothing to disturb his tranquility, whether as touching his public or his private affairs; he was in peace in his house, and flourishing in his palace. Everything, in a word, went well with this mighty monarch, so that he might have been, if human prosperity could have given it, in the enjoyment of perfect happiness. And he was, it would seem, happy, but without God. It was from this clear sky; with no premonition of coming trouble that God's warnings suddenly came to arouse the king and to fill him with apprehensions. "I saw a dream," he says, "which made me afraid, and the thoughts upon my bed and the visions of my head troubled me" (Daniel Ch.4v5). I believe we could say this is a dream ending in difficulty. Such is the translation given by some; and this removes perhaps the ambiguity of the words "at rest," as in connection with his dream and visions they might be thought to mean that he was resting in sleep. The dream did not, as on a former occasion, pass away from his mind; nor did he understand what he had seen, although he was troubled, troubled as he felt that it contained something of momentous import for him and for his kingdom. He therefore at once issued a decree to bring in all the wise men of Babylon, that they might make known to him the interpretation of the dream (Daniel Ch.4v6). Having proved their incompetence in Daniel Ch.2, and having, at the same time, learned that Daniel alone could unravel his mystery, it may seem strange that Daniel was not immediately summoned into the king's presence. There is no affinity between the natural and the spiritual man. Saul was glad to avail himself of David's services both with his harp and with his sword, and yet he hated him. In like manner, Nebuchadnezzar had profited by Daniel's interpretation; God had spoken to Nebuchadnezzar in several ways, first by the dream vision and then by the remarkable appearance of the Son of God in the fiery furnace, but Nebuchadnezzar’s heart was still hard and rebellious. He, at this moment of time is blatantly refusing to submit to the ruler-ship of the Almighty God. He could not love the one who was the representative before him of the God of heaven. If, therefore, he could do without Daniel he would; and consequently he first tried his own wise men. Again their impotence was manifested. The wisdom of man is confined to earth; but Nebuchadnezzar's dream came from heaven. The subject was one outside of all the thoughts of men, even though it related to the earth. To understand God's things a man must be instructed of God; and this, the wise men of Babylon were not. Foiled in his purpose, the king tells us, "At the last Daniel came in before me, whose name was Belteshazzar, according to the name of my god," etc. (Daniel Ch.4v8). The next verse plainly shows that Nebuchadnezzar had not forgotten Daniel's ability as an expounder of secrets, although he could not have known the source of his inspiration, nor that he was God's vessel of the spirit of prophecy. He only sent for him, therefore, from necessity, inasmuch as in all his dominions there was no other who could interpret his dream.

On this occasion every particular of the dream was fast rooted in the king's memory, and he proceeded to repeat it to Daniel. It falls into three parts; first, its subject matter, the tree (Daniel Ch.4vv10-12) secondly, the judgment upon the tree (Daniel Ch.4vv13-16) and lastly, the object of the judgment executed (Daniel Ch.4v17). As Daniel takes up all these particulars, we may pass to his interpretation, after noticing, first, the effect on Daniel of the king's recital. When Nebuchadnezzar had explained to him what he had seen in the visions of his head in his bed Daniel Ch.4v19, "Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonied for one hour, and his thoughts troubled him." The meaning of the dream was unfolded to his soul as he heard it, and as he comprehended its import in its application to the king, filled with amazement, and troubled, he was reluctant, it would appear, to communicate to him the significance of the dream. This was perceived by Nebuchadnezzar, and he 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" (Daniel Ch.4v19). It may be questioned whether Daniel, in speaking thus, having received from God the interpretation of the dream, maintained the level of his prophetic office as a messenger from God; and it will be observed that in the record of this sentence the name Daniel is dropped. It is for the first and only time Belteshazzar, not Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, but simply Belteshazzar who answered the king. However this may be, Daniel commenced to give to the king the interpretation of his dream: "The tree that thou sawest, which grew, and was strong, whose height reached unto the heaven, and the sight thereof to all the earth; 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: 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" (Daniel Ch.4vv20-22). The figure of a tree to denote men in their earthly greatness is often used in the prophets. Ezekiel thus says: "Behold, the Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon with fair branches, and with a shadowing shroud, and of an high stature; and his top was among the thick boughs. All the fowls of heaven made their nests in his boughs, and under his branches did all the beasts of the field bring forth their young, and under his shadow dwelt all great nations," etc. (Ezekiel Ch.31vv3-9). This striking correspondence helps much to understand the zymology of Nebuchadnezzar's dreams, and enables us to perceive how apt an illustration it is of exaltation in the government of the earth, in the far-reaching, wide-spreading, and sheltering protection it affords to all ranks and conditions of men. The beasts of the field and the fowls of heaven are introduced because both alike had been given into his hand (see Daniel Ch.2v38); and hence they, as well as the children of men, are looked upon as subject to, sustained and protected by, his authority. Well therefore might Daniel say to the king, "Thy greatness is grown, and reacheth unto heaven, and thy dominion to the end of the earth" (Daniel Ch.4v22). A difference between the head of gold in Daniel Ch.2 and the tree here in Daniel Ch 4, in their respective applications, is to be remarked.

Both concern Nebuchadnezzar, as plainly said; but the former includes his dynasty, inasmuch as it is not until his dynasty ends that the second of the four prophetic kingdoms appears. The latter is a symbol of Nebuchadnezzar himself, as is seen by the judgment executed; only, it has to be added, that his degradation is in reality, as may be afterwards explained, typical of the character of the Gentile power in government on to its suppression at the appearing of Christ to establish His kingdom. Having given the application of the symbol, Daniel continued his interpretation: "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; this is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the most High, which is come upon my lord the king: 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. 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" (Daniel Ch.4vv23-26).

Nothing could be more precise than this interpretation, and it is given at length that the reader may perceive how exact in every detail was the fulfillment. It could not be otherwise, inasmuch as it was, through Daniel, a divine exposition of Nebuchadnezzar's vision. It may now be understood why Daniel was tempted, as the judgment impending over the king rose up before him, to say, "The dream be to them that hate thee." It was only the courage which the sense of his mission from God imparted that enabled him thus fearlessly to unroll the scroll of the king's future; and it needed courage for the Jewish captive-prophet to stand before the monarch of the world, and to depict such an overwhelming disaster. Daniel himself would appear to have been moved; for he appealed to the king in words of earnest entreaty, "Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquility" (Daniel Ch.4v27). Here is a preacher ending with a pleading. Like Paul with Felix, Daniel reasoned with Nebuchadnezzar of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come; but we do not read that the king trembled. The message, however, had been delivered and the appeal made; and the momentous interview between the prophet and the monarch was ended.

In the next place the history of the fulfillment of Daniel's interpretation is given. "All this," he says, "came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar" (Daniel Ch.4v28); and then we have the circumstances under which the threatened judgment was executed. Twelve months had passed, and there is no record that the king had even been troubled by the warning he had received. The sky was still clear, with not a cloud on the distant horizon. This might be a matter of unspeakable surprise if we did not remember that the spectacle of sinners unmoved on the eve of eternal woe greets our eyes every day. Death must come, and judgment will follow, and yet men are careless and heedless. So with Nebuchadnezzar; and hence it is that we read, "at the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon" (Daniel Ch.4v29). And what was the subject of his meditations? His own greatness power, and majesty "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 honour of my majesty?" (Daniel Ch.4v30). All this was the glorification of himself; the full-blown pride of the human heart, begotten of his exaltation and prosperity, the pride that goeth before destruction. The source of his power had been communicated to him in Daniel Ch.2; but this he had entirely forgotten in attributing all the glory of his kingdom to himself. Surveying the magnificence of his palace and metropolis, with a heart swelling with pride and exultation, he ascribed all to the might of his own power, and declared that it was all for the honour of his own majesty. God was not in all his thoughts, nor even his own false gods; himself — himself as the source of all his glory, and himself as the object of all his works, bound his vision. What an insight into the heart of man! We are allowed to behold the moral condition of this gigantic tree before it is hewn down according to the divine decree. The similarity between this and the parable of the rich man, whose ground brought forth plentifully, will at once be recalled.

As he congratulated himself upon his prosperity, purposed to enlarge his barns, and contemplated years of selfish enjoyment, the judgment went forth, "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee" (Luke Ch.12vv16-20). In like manner, as Nebuchadnezzar vented the pride of his heart in his foolish boasting, even "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" (Daniel Ch.4v31); and then the judgment pronounced by Daniel is repeated by the voice, and immediately executed. For "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" (Daniel Ch4vv32-33). Here is serious humiliation ending in salvation. When God speaks, it is done, and what He commands ever stands fast.

It is now necessary to enquire into the meaning of this judgment; and on examination it will be found that it has three-pronged significance personal, moral, and prophetic. First, then, the personal significance has to be considered. This lies in the fact that what was inflicted upon Nebuchadnezzar was a direct judgment from God for his personal pride, for what might be called his self-deification, and we should not be unaware that God still works in such a manner today. The judgment of God has fallen upon our world in recent days even through an eruption of nature, but like Nebuchadnezzar, it would seem to take a long time sinking in and cause us to repent and turn to God from idols. The pride of man is one of the special objects of God's hatred; and because of its expression in an extreme form in the king of Babylon; he fell under God's judicial hand. There are those who endeavour to account for his condition in a natural way by terming it a special form of madness. Even so, the question returns, where did this judgment come from? The Biblical narrative supplies the answer, an answer recorded by the king himself, that it came from the hand of God as a just judgment upon Nebuchadnezzar's overweening pride and vainglory. Threatened a year before it was inflicted, and space thus having been given for repentance, he has the very words of Daniel recalled to his mind by a voice from heaven, at the very moment when the punitive stroke was about to descend. Entrusted with the government of the earth, God held him accountable, and punished him accordingly, and yet in grace, as well as in righteousness, since the object was to teach him "that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will" (Daniel Ch.4v32). Next comes the moral significance of what befell Nebuchadnezzar, this if possible, was of more importance. He was driven from men, became as a beast of the earth, for he ate grass as oxen, and in his bodily condition was even worse than the beasts of the field. All this is but expressive of his moral state, and of the character of the power he wielded as dissociated from God. Power is reduced to the condition of the beasts that know not God, and are devoid of man's understanding. The only true privilege of man, that which ennobles him, is that he can look up to God and acknowledge Him. Without this he looks downward, he cannot suffice to himself, he is degraded, pride and independence separate man from God; he becomes a beast, devoid of real intelligence. The physical state of this monarch is therefore a moral picture, and one that should often be pondered, inasmuch as it reveals man's condition according to the estimate of God, when he vaunts his own power, seeks his own glory, and asserts his own independence. But it goes further than the king himself; it embraces also the character of his rule, and of his kingdom. If then the first kingdom in man's hand becomes in Daniel 3 idolatrous, in Daniel 4 it becomes bestial, bestial in the sense of being devoid of all intelligence as dissevered from God, and as looking downward, and feeding only upon the motives and objects of earth. For when man in his exaltation shuts out God from his thoughts, he makes himself his centre and object; he is morally no better than a beast. As the Psalmist says, "Man that is in honour and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish" (Psalm Ch.49v20). There is lastly the prophetic significance. "Seven times" were to pass over the king in his degradation before he should be restored. It does not say "years," though probably the "times" mean "years” the expression may appear vague to the skeptic but it is generally accepted this is the true meaning, while the term "seven" gives it a very precise meaning; a perfect period, a period comprises the whole duration of the times of the Gentiles. We gather, therefore, that all the four kingdoms, and these, it will be remembered, embrace the whole period of Gentile rule, will have the same moral character before God; that the power exercised in them will be apart from God, and will be wielded for self, for man, and for earthly objects, without regard to God's thoughts, or responsibility to Him from whom the power has been derived. This is a very solemn consideration, and on many accounts, it shows that no improvement in the governments of the earth is to be expected, and therefore that it is worse than useless, to say nothing of inconsistency with his heavenly calling, for the Christian to embark upon the sea of political agitations, in the hope of securing some amelioration in the state of things around. It is not for one moment denied that man's condition in this world may be improved by just and beneficent laws; but the question remains, will any political changes or legislative enactments alter the moral character either of human governments or of their subjects?

Our chapter, with a host of other scriptures, proclaims that the character of the first kingdom will be repeated in its successors; and it will, as we know from the book of Revelation, be seen without any disguise in the final form of the last of the four prophetic kingdoms. If any one should doubt this statement, let him trace the course of human governments from the days of the kingdom of Babylon up to the present time. Let him wade through the histories of conquests, wars, and dynasties, and then let him ask himself if he could name any period when the power of the throne was held from God, and wielded for God. He will undoubtedly discover that some individual monarchs have been pious men; but he will also have to confess that, whatever their piety, they could not change the course or the character of their governments. The powers that be are ordained of God, and therefore the Christian is to render them all due honour and subjection; but this in no wise militates against the fact that Nebuchadnezzar's condition in its moral aspect, as given in our chapter, depicts the character of the kingdoms which fill up the times of the Gentiles.

Having traced the meanings of Nebuchadnezzar's degradation, we may now consider its effect on himself the "seven times" may also refer to this effect. The period was divinely appointed, and, as in corresponding cases in the typical books, had without doubt regard to the change to be wrought in his soul. His degradation, in other words, was to continue for a perfect period, as indicated by the number seven, until the divinely intended work in his soul should be accomplished. Hence he says, "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 honoured Him that liveth for ever, 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 Ch.4vv34-35). The object of God's dealings with him was attained; for the king had now learnt the lesson appointed him, that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will (Daniel Ch.4vv25-32). Let us, however, examine his confession more particularly. In the judgment with which he had been visited he was as a beast of the earth; and, as we have pointed out, the characteristic of a beast is that it looks downward, and does not possess the intelligence of man. It is, therefore, most interesting to notice that the moment Nebuchadnezzar lifted up his eyes to heaven, his understanding returned. So with the prodigal who had wandered into the far country; his "coming to himself" and his turning to his father's house are connected. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and this statement is illustrated in the experience of the king of Babylon. Turning upward to the hand that had smitten him, he began to understand, for he learnt for the first time his accountability to God. And do remark that the first use he makes of his newly-found understanding is to bless the most High, to praise and honour Him as the eternal God, and as the Sovereign Ruler both in heaven and on earth. This is exceedingly beautiful; and is the sure evidence of what we know as a work of grace in the soul. The character under which he blesses God, "the most high," is also significant. This title is first found in connection with Melchizedek, who is termed the priest of the most High God; and who, blessing Abram on his return from the slaughter of the kings, said, "Blessed be Abram of the most High God, possessor of heaven and earth" (Genesis Ch.14vv18-19). This plainly teaches, as also may be gathered from other scriptures, that this is the title which God will assume in the age to come, when He will, in very deed, possess the earth as well as heaven. In addition, therefore, to the significance of the use of the title by Nebuchadnezzar, who owned thereby that God, though He had committed the sovereignty of the earth to him, yet did according to His will on earth as in heaven, there is also a prophetic meaning. We have already called attention to the fact that Nebuchadnezzar's degradation shadowed forth the character of Gentile rule on to the end; and now we learn that it will be through judgment that the nations will be brought to acknowledge God. We thus read in the prophet Zephaniah, "My determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent" (Zephaniah Ch.3vv8-9). Daniel had told the king that the kingdom should be sure unto him; after that he had learnt that the heavens do rule. This prediction was also verified; for he further adds: "At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour 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" (Daniel Ch.4v36). God thus fulfilled His own word by the mouth of His servant; not one jot or title was allowed to fall to the ground; and Nebuchadnezzar joyfully confesses and records the divine faithfulness. And it is no small encouragement in the presence of the pride of power everywhere displayed, and amid all the confusions of earth, to see that God is working through all for the accomplishment of His own purposes, and that in the issue all the Gentiles, as well as His ancient people, will be brought into willing subjection to Christ when He establishes His kingdom, and extends His sway throughout the whole earth.

The chapter closes with another note of praise: "Now I 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" (Daniel Ch.4v37). Truly, here is a life ending in light. Comparing the Nebuchadnezzar who renders this praise to God with the Nebuchadnezzar who said, as he surveyed the magnificence of his city, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built?" etc., we can only exclaim with wonder and amazement, "Look what hath God wrought!" He had indeed shown His power to abase the one who was walking in pride; and, more than this, in abasing him He so effectually changed the heart of the monarch that he turned submissively to the hand that had smitten him, and confessed that all God's works are truth, and His ways judgment. He thus justified God, a sure and unmistakable sign of conversion, and as he justified him, his lips were filled with praise and adoration. It is a lovely picture of the ways of God both in judgment and in grace. A word should be added upon the character in which he here confesses God. He now speaks of Him as the King of heaven; and this is also evidence of his having been divinely taught. When Jehovah had His throne in Jerusalem, He was God of the earth as well as of heaven; but when He had abandoned His throne there, and had committed the sovereignty of the world to the Gentile monarch, He would be known as the God of heaven, and it is to Him as such that Daniel bore testimony before the king Daniel Ch.2vv37-44. But while God had now assumed this title, He in no wise surrendered either His claims to the earth, or the present actions of His power in government; for His object in the judicial stroke that fell upon Nebuchadnezzar was, as we have seen, to teach him, "that the most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever He will." Nebuchadnezzar had confessed this truth; but before he concludes the account of God's dealings with himself he proceeds a step further, and owns Him as the King of heaven.It is exceedingly interesting to trace the various stages in Nebuchadnezzar's history, which led up to this conclusion. In Daniel Ch.2 he confessed to Daniel, "Of a truth it is that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret"; in Daniel Ch.3 he decreed that no one, under the extreme penalties of the law, should speak against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, owning that there was no other god that could "deliver after this sort"; and, lastly, in our chapter, Daniel Ch.4 he acknowledges God as the most High, and as the King of heaven. God thus in His mercy subdued the proud heart of this mighty potentate, and humbling him before Him, made him confess His name before all the inhabitants of his vast empire. If a record of judgment, it is yet a story of unbounded grace.

Grace is the good pleasure of God that inclines him to bestow benefits upon the undeserving. It is a self-existent principle inherent in the divine nature and appears to us as a self-caused propensity to pity the wretched, spare the guilty, welcome the outcast, and bring into favour those who were before under just disapprobation. Its use to us sinful men is to save us and make us sit together in heavenly places to demonstrate to the ages the exceeding riches of God's kindness to us in Christ Jesus. A. W. Tozer.

Edythe Draper, Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992). Entries 4650-4652.

I feel it incumbent upon me to add as a conclusion to chapter four, the life and character of the author of the book we are studying is clearly evidenced in his writings as a man of deep and unshakable faith and fearless courage. Not only does Daniel set before us a life lived for the glory of God regardless of the consequences but he continually charges us by that very life style to stand up, stand up for truth and be a people who desire to be vessels unto honour in the house of our God. It is relatively easy for us in this day and age to want to fit in with our culture and have a belief that if we bring what we believe down to the level of those who are out of Christ without a Saviour then, we will have greater opportunity to speak to them and indeed lead them to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, what Daniel is saying is, faithfulness first and foremost in all things to our great God is the only way to honour His Holy Name.

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