This study of Daniel chapter 4 was given by pastor Barry Forder at Calvary Portsmouth on 16th May 2021.
Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you.
So here we have a chapter of the Bible written by a gentile king! – and note, he does not just write this to his own subjects, this is written to all that on the earth! This king – one of the most powerful who ever lived – has something to say to the world…
I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me.
By the time king Nebuchadnezzar writes this the account you are about to read has all taken place. Nebuchadnezzar is writing ‘after the events’, and so dramatic were they, he has to tell the world!
Babylon was full of gods. Idolatry was practically invented in Babel (later to be known as Babylon), so don’t miss the significance of Nebuchadnezzar referring to Daniel’s God as ‘the high God’. In the Aramaic (which this chapter was written in) the word translated ‘high’ is the adjective ʻillay’ (il-lah’-ee), meaning highest, supreme, the one above every other god. In Isaiah we read: “Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:6), and “Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, ye that are escaped of the nations: they have no knowledge that set up the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save. Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the Lord? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:20-22)
As Nebuchadnezzar will explain, he once thought of himself as supreme. He had acquired great wealth and power, whatever Nebuchadnezzar said, people did. But he came to see that a man can gain the world but lose his soul, and where is the profit in that? (See Matt 16:26). Now he knows that there is a Higher Power, beyond the realm of earthly kings and governments, with a greater sovereignty than man has over even his own life.
There are many in this world who think they are in control of their own lives and destiny. They might not have the wealth and position of Nebuchadnezzar, but they think they rule over their own lives. One day they will all bow before God and the Man He has appointed to judge the world – Jesus Christ (Acts 17:31). Then the real power and majesty will be unveiled!
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.
In chapter 3 Nebuchadnezzar built a golden statue to symbolize his own ‘everlasting kingdom and dominion’. It took the faith of three Hebrew men to show Nebuchadnezzar, by signs and wonders, how inferior he was compared to their mighty God. Nebuchadnezzar was duly impressed but there had been no change of heart. But now, around 26 years later, after learning the hard way (and we will see in the following verses just how hard!) Nebuchadnezzar finally gets it. This would have been the last year of his life. How sad it is that so many people don’t get it until they have wasted a lifetime, yet even then, the mighty God whose dominion is from generation to generation is full of mercy and compassion.
How often had Daniel prayed for Nebuchadnezzar? We don’t know; but it is clear Daniel never gave up on him, and the seeds that were sown finally burst into life!
I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in mine house, and flourishing in my palace:
On the surface he was flourishing – like so many in this world, thinking that they have it all, not aware that it can all disappear like that.
“And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21)
I saw a dream which made me afraid, and the thoughts upon my bed and the visions of my head troubled me.
God has a way of getting our attention. Even the hardest, most unreachable people in our eyes are never beyond the reach of God. I suspect that Daniel had been praying for his king and friend for some time, believing that God was able to get through to him.
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.
Daniel was well known to the king by now, so why not just call him? I think that Nebuchadnezzar realised this dream was not good, and may well have wanted to hear a sugar-coated interpretation rather than the truth. We see exactly the same with Ahab, king of Israel in 1 Kings 22:6-8 “Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said unto them, Shall I go against Ramoth-gilead to battle, or shall I forbear? And they said, Go up; for the Lord shall deliver it into the hand of the king. And Jehoshaphat [king of Judah] said, Is there not here a prophet of the LORD besides, that we might inquire of him? And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may inquire of the LORD: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil.” So the reason that Ahab didn’t ask Micaiah is basically because he told the truth! – and sometimes the truth is hard to take! I think that is why king Nebuchadnezzar didn’t call Daniel to start with.
Often the world will not ask our opinion because they don’t want to hear it! For non-Christians, even being around Christians can make them uncomfortable, as if a spot-light were shined upon them.
“have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light” (Ephesians 5:11-13)
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.
This tells a story! In chapter two the Chaldeans were straight in there with their ‘dummies guide to interpreting dreams’. This is what they were famous for as we mentioned in chapter two. This time the king even tells them the dream so it should be easy for them – but then again, they have had their fingers burnt by a certain Daniel too many times by now; even if they did interpret the dream, Daniel was bound to come along and tell them they’d got it wrong! They just were not going to take that chance. Notice they ‘did not make known’ not ‘were not able’, it appears that they didn’t even try!
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,
So finally king Nebuchadnezzar gives up and accepts the inevitable. But who does Nebuchadnezzar say came in? DANIEL – that is his Hebrew name, yet the king chooses to use this in telling us the story of these events, adding his Babylonian name just in case anyone didn’t know who Daniel was. How amazing that after all this time in Babylon (Daniel would have been about 50 by now), with so much pressure to blend into their culture (when in Rome…) that Daniel retains his Jewish identity and the name that glorifies his God.
Notice, that at that time, Nebuchadnezzar records that Daniel’s Babylonian name was after ‘my god’ – What a contrast in this chapter! The king started out following his god, and ends up following the ‘Most High God’!
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.
This is an interesting verse because Nebuchadnezzar informs us that Daniel is ‘chief of the Magi’. Now the Magi were essentially a Persian religious sect specialising in the mystical; so what was Daniel doing in charge of them? We will find out in chapter 6 that it was not something that was happily accepted by some of his contemporaries; but it appears that Daniel had converted this group and told them about the prophecies regarding the coming Jewish Messiah. How do we know this? Because just over 500 years later, a group of these Magi travelled for miles across the middle eastern deserts to Israel to celebrate the birth of a baby that had been born King of the Jews! (NB: there were far more than three of these Magi and they didn’t go to the stable but to Joseph and Mary’s house back in Nazareth – we have been duped by tradition into thinking that there were 3 wise men, or 3 kings and they went to the stable. Wrong, Wrong, Wrong! Tradition makes the Word of no effect! (Mark 7:13).
Also in this verse we have confirmed that king Neb knew that Daniel could and would be able to interpret the dream – and it would probably have something to do with Daniel’s ‘holy gods’.
What a testimony Daniel has that even the king knew that: ‘no secret troubleth thee’.
“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” (Isaiah 26:3)
The Dream – Daniel 4:10-17
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.
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:
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.
13 I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven;
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:
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:
16 Let his heart be changed from man’s, and let a beast’s heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him.
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.
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.
So Nebuchadnezzar asks Daniel to interpret the dream to him, and reiterates that the best of Babylon were unable (unwilling?) to answer. It is interesting to note that even before Daniel has spoken on this occasion, Nebuchadnezzar concedes that ‘the spirit of the holy gods’ in is Daniel. Obviously he remembers the events of chapter two.
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.
Once again, Nebuchadnezzar uses Daniel’s Jewish name, and then confirms Daniel’s Babylonian name so all would know to whom the king is referring.
Back in verse 9 the king confidently asserts that nothing troubles Daniel – that is, up until now! We will see in chapter nine that Daniel was familiar with Jeremiah’s prophecies; that being the case, Daniel may well be thinking of what Jeremiah said in chapter 27: “And now have I given all these lands unto the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant; and the beasts of the field have I given him also to serve him. And all nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son’s son, until the very time of his land come: and then many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of him” (Jer 27:6-7).
This is another remarkable prophecy that accurately foretells that after Nebuchadnezzar (whom God calls ‘My servant’), his son and then his grandson will rule Babylon until their time is up – we will deal with this in the next chapter. As for Daniel’s thoughts, if God had raised up Nebuchadnezzar for a purpose (that of bringing judgment on the house of Judah), what was to happen to him now? No wonder Daniel was ‘astonied’. Then there was the question of how exactly do you break this to the king?
NB: the word translated ‘astonied’ here is not the same as we saw back in chapter 3:24 where king Nebuchadnezzar was ‘astonied’ – lit ‘swept to ruin’. In 3:24 it is ‘tevahh’ which has a negative connotation; here the word is ‘Shemam’ which simply means ‘stunned’.
This hour must have been one of the longest of Nebuchadnezzar’s life; eventually he says to Daniel ‘Don’t let the dream trouble you (as well)’. If Daniel is troubled this is not good.
Finally Daniel says in effect ‘If only this dream were about your enemies; but alas……’
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;
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:
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.
Thus what Nebuchadnezzar probably feared is confirmed, he is the tree, but it is the next bit that is of most concern…..
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;
The ‘watcher’ from the context is an angel who comes down from the Holy One in Heaven. The important points in this verse are that the tree is to be cut down but the root is to remain. However the root is to be bound with iron and brass – the possible meaning of this is dealt with in the Pastors Blog https://www.calvaryportsmouth.co.uk/?p=4758&preview=true.
At the beginning of the verse the vocabulary refers to ‘it’ i.e. an impersonal pronoun, but by the end of the sentence the vocabulary changes to use the personal pronoun ‘his/him’. Thus this verse could be seen to have a double reference; firstly to king Nebuchadnezzar who is already identified as the tree in verse 22; and secondly the reference may be to Nebuchadnezzar’s dominion i.e. the kingdom of Babylon.
The reference to seven times is seen by most Bible commentators to represent seven years. In Daniel 7:25 and Rev 12:14 we read of time (singular) times (plural) and half a time. From the context we understand that this is referring to three and a half years (specifically the last three and a half years of the Tribulation), where time = 1 year, times = 2 years and half a time = 6 months. Thus Daniel is saying that Nebuchadnezzar is going to be cut down for seven years, during which time he will be covered with the dew and have his portion with the beasts of the field.
This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the most High, which is come upon my lord the king:
King Nebuchadnezzar was all too familiar with issuing decrees; now one had been issued against him by the highest authority there is – the Most High God.
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.
Thus Daniel explains to the king exactly what will happen to him, how he will be humbled until (whenever you see an ‘until’ in the Bible take note!), until he finally realises that it is the most High who rules in the kingdom of men, and He will give it to whomsoever He chooses. This is the third time this lesson had been taught to the king (two warnings and then this pronounced judgment – see Daniel 2:37-38 & Daniel 3:28-29), on the previous two occasions he has completely missed the point – this time he will finally get it.
Despite what world leaders may come and go, we also need to remember that God is in complete control of events on planet earth – yes He gives men and nations free choice, but because He knows the end from the beginning, all things are working to an expected end.
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.
Throughout this period Nebuchadnezzar did not lose his throne – an incredible fact in itself; no doubt in part as a result of Daniel being the king’s right-hand man; and yes, he will learn his lesson this time.
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 tranquillity.
Here Daniel pleads with the king to repent of his pride and iniquities in the hope that these events will be postponed.
All this came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar.
God’s decrees never fail. As Nebuchadnezzar himself records here, all this happened as Daniel had interpreted.
At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon.
We know from 2 Peter 3:9 that God is longsuffering toward us; here we find that God gave Nebuchadnezzar a year to repent, but as Jeremiah records in 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” So, one evening, the king is out for a stroll looking at his kingdom and feeling invincible…
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?
Oops! Proverbs 6:16-19 says: “These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.” Notice what is top of the list?
Again we read: “Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished.” (Prov 16:5) “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov 16:18) “A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit” (Prov 29:23)
In a nutshell, God hates pride. Pride was the sin of Satan (1 Tim 3:6 see also Isaiah 14:13-15 / Ezek 28:14-17). Both James and Peter tell us that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. It is not wise to put yourself in a position where God is resisting you ‘cos you ‘aint going to win! – as king Neb found out!
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.
The terror of this is almost unimaginable. However God had warned twice and foretold this judgment a year before, so the king was without excuse. The same is true for the people in this world; God has given ample warning through His two witnesses – the law and the prophets (cf Luke 16:31) and has foretold the coming judgment ‘so they are without excuse’.
The speed with which this judgment fell should be a wake up call for anyone ‘dabbling’ in sin.
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.
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.
There is a condition known as Lycanthropy, coming from the Greek ‘lykos’ meaning ‘wolf’ and ‘anthropos’ meaning ‘man’ lit. ‘Wolf-Man’. Very few recorded cases exist yet extensive mythology has originated by the belief that a person could change into a wolf; this has led to world-wide legends of werewolf’s etc.
A variation of this disease is Boanthropy where, rather than believing oneself to be a wolf, one believes oneself to be an ox or cow. It is this illness that most likely fits this situation. Myth and legend aside, there was a fairly recent case recorded in England just after the Second World War. A man in his early twenties was admitted to a mental institution with all the symptoms consistent with Boanthropy. In his commentary on Daniel, Dr John Walvoord offers the following: “Raymond Harrison recites a personal experience with a modern case similar to that of Nebuchadnezzar which he observed in a British mental institution in 1946. Harrison writes: ‘A great many doctors spend an entire busy professional career without once encountering an incidence of this kind of boanthropy described in the book of Daniel. The present writer therefore considers himself particularly fortunate to have actually observed a clinical case of boanthropy in a British mental institution in 1946. The patient was in his early twenties, who had reportedly been hospitalised for about five years. His symptoms were well developed on admission and diagnosis was immediate and conclusive. He was of average height and weight, with a good physique and he was in excellent bodily health. His mental symptoms included pronounced anti-social tendencies, and because of this he spent the entire day from dawn to dusk outdoors in the grounds of the institution. His daily routine consisted of wandering around the magnificent lawns, with which the hospital was graced. And it was his custom to pluck up and eat handfuls of grass all day long as he went. On observation he was seen to discriminate carefully between grass and weeds. And on enquiry from the attendant, the writer was told that the diet of this patient consisted exclusively of grass from the hospital lawns. He never ate institutional food with other inmates, and his only drink was water. The writer was able to examine him curiously, and the only physical abnormality noted, consisted of a lengthening of the hair and a coarse thickened condition of the fingernails. Without institutional care the patient would have manifested precisely the same physical conditions as those mentioned in Daniel 4:33. From the foregoing it seems evident that author of the forth chapter of Daniel was describing an accurate and attestable, rather rare mental affliction.”
Of course the critics of the Bible say that this could never of happened, however Eusebius refers to a Greek historian called Abydenus who sites a case in 268BC of a man with almost identical symptoms to Nebuchadnezzar. Josephus also quotes Berosus, a Babylonian historian, who documented the case of a Chaldean priest at the time of Alexander the Great, who once again appears to have suffered from this disease. In the East India Company Museum in London there is a cuneiform tablet that has been discovered that is inscribed with details about Nebuchadnezzar’s illness. Yet further evidence to support the Biblical account was the discovery of what has become known as the ‘Prayer of Nabonidus’ found in cave no#4 at Qumran (part of the Dead Sea Scrolls found between 1947-1956). Whilst the scroll is ascribed to Nabonidus (almost certainly due to confusion in the similar spelling of the names – only one letter is different in the two names) there is little doubt that the author is none other than Nebuchadnezzar himself. The scroll reads:
“The words of the prayer that (Nabonidus?), the king of A[ssyra and Ba]bylon, the [great] king, prayed [when he was smitten] with a malignant disease by the decree of the [Most High God] in [the city of] Tema. I was smitten for seven years and from [men] I was put away. But when I confessed my sins and my faults, He [God] allowed me (to have) a soothsayer. This was a Jewish [man of the exiles in Babylon. He] explained (it) and wrote (me) to render honour and g[reat glor]y to the name of the [Most High God]…”
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:
How often do we take ‘seven years’ to learn the most basic lesson, that God is in control? So often our pride exhibits itself as worry, which is a declaration that we, and not God, are in control. Oswald Chambers said: “If God is the God we know Him to be when we are closest to Him, what an impertinence worry is”. (see Matt 6:25-34 & Phil 4:6-7) Worry is simply a lack of faith in the one whose dominion is an everlasting dominion.
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?
“Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?” (Isaiah 45:9)
“Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” (Rom 9:20)
36 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 counsellers and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me.
37 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.
Nebuchadnezzar lived for about one year after this time.
The Jewish Talmud records that Daniel was the one who looked after Nebuchadnezzar throughout the seven years, and then saw him restored to his throne. However this time the king knew that ‘his’ throne was really only on loan.
If God can reach someone like Nebuchadnezzar who had the position, wealth and all the ‘trappings’ this world can afford, then God can reach anyone. What an onus on us to pray for all those near and dear to us who don’t know the love of the Saviour, whose works are truth, and His ways judgment.
Also we should remember the admonition by Paul:
“I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;
Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”
(1 Tim 2:1-5)
May you be blessed and encouraged by this study!