The Book of Daniel Chapter Four
The Humbling of Nebuchadnezzar
by Cooper P Abrams III
The Decree of Nebuchadnezzar
The beginning of this chapter is a decree issued by King Nebuchadnezzar to all the people of his kingdom proclaiming the greatness of God towards him. God had shown Himself to Nebuchadnezzar earlier through Daniel who had both revealed and interpreted his dream, (Daniel 2) and once again though the delivery of Daniel's three companions in the fiery furnace.(Daniel 3) However, the king continued in his pride and arrogance to ignore God that had placed him in his position as king. In his pride, he concluded it was his great ability that had placed him over Babylon. Yet, God was longsuffering and He was not finished with Nebuchadnezzar and was about to teach him a lesson in a most humbling and debilitating way. This chapter is the king's personal testimony of his experience in coming to the realization and acceptance of the greatness, wonder and power of Almighty God.
Nebuchadnezzar begins by stating he was secure at rest and was prosperous (flourishing) in his palace. However, this peaceful state was broken when in his sleep he had a troubling dream. His actions reveal that he had not learned the lessons of his first dream which God had caused him to have. Once again he makes the mistake of calling all his "wisemen" to give him the meaning of the dream. It seems more reasonable that he would immediately call Daniel who had not only revealed the his first dream he could not remember, but also had given the interpretation to him. Clearly, the truth that God said he had placed Nebuchadnezzar on his throne did not set well with the king. So instead of going to God's servant, Nebuchadnezzar goes to his own "wisemen" who he knows do not know God and will not give an interpretation that would degrade him.
Once again these phony "wisemen" are called to the palace, all the magicians, the astrologers, the Chaldeans and the soothsayers. This time their task is easier, because unlike before, the king remembers the dream he had. So they are told the dream and asked to give the interpretation of it. Yet, they could not or would not venture an interpretation. It may be that they knew Daniel was available and could interpret the dream correctly and they feared if they gave a meaning to the dream Daniel could expose it as being phony. They were wise in not making up an interpretation that could prove their undoing.
Verse 8 says that at the last, after the Babylonian wisemen had failed in giving the interpretation, Daniel comes before the king. Daniel's name given to him by Nebuchadnezzar was Belteshazzar which was a Aramaic or Chadee name. The name "Beltis" means "protect the king" or Belteshazzar "protect Nebuchadnezzar." Nebuchadnezzar refers to Daniel as not serving "THE" God, but as being a the servant of one of the polytheistic heathen gods. He did use the term "holy" with would only apply to Jehovah, which meant being separated and unlike the heathen gods of Babylon.
Daniel is addressed as being the "master of magicians" which degraded him as being God's servant and placed him in the same class as the heathen wisemen. As Nebuchadnezzar addresses Daniel he is careful not to recognize the uniqueness of Almighty God, by saying the spirit of the "gods" (plural) was in him. Nebuchadnezzar is still refusing to accept that Jehovah is the "only" God by placing Him among his pagan gods. Among the gods of the Babylonians none held the distinction of being the supreme God and this degraded opinion of gods allowed the king to think of himself in similar terms of being godlike himself.
He asks Daniel for the interpretation of this his second dream and explains what he saw in the vision. Nebuchadnezzar saw great and high tree standing in the midst of the earth. The tree great and strong and reached high into the sky and everyone one earth could see it. It was pleasant to look at and it fruit every kind of creature ate the fruit. Then Nebuchadnezzar said he saw a "watcher" a holy one that came from heaven who loudly cried to cut the tree down and strip it of it leaves, branches, and fruit and let the animals get from under it. However, the watcher says to leave the stump and roots in the earth. The stump then was to be bound with a band of iron and brass in the tender grass of the field and it would be wet with the dew of heaven and have its portion or food with the beasts who grazed in the grass.
Note that in the description of the tree in verses 10-12, the tree is referred to as "it", but in verses 14-16 the pronoun is changed to "his." This is significant because this great tree that is hewed down in this dream is symbolic of Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom. Verse 16 says let "his" heart be changed from a man's to that of a beast for a period of seven years. This was troubling to Nebuchadnezzar who surely understood the dream was about him and symbolism of the tree being cut down and the stump becoming a animal was alarming.
He begs Daniel for the interpretation, but all the while refusing to accept that the vision and the interpretation would come for "The" God. He recognizes the power of God, but still uses the plural of "holy ones" and beckons Daniel to give him the interpretation by the spirit of the "holy gods" which was in Daniel. But this gross misunderstanding and rebellion against Almighty God was soon to be changed.
Daniel apparently immediately understood what the dream meant and for one hour in amazement pondered over the giving Nebuchadnezzar the interpretation. Nebuchadnezzar sensed that Daniel was struggling with how he would tell the king the awful news of about what was going to shortly happen. The king then assured Daniel that he should not be troubled but without reservation give the interpretation. It would seem that Nebuchadnezzar already suspected that the meaning of the dream would not be good for him, thus he was eager to have the matter revealed.
Daniel's response was clearly that of a diplomat. Even though he was reluctant to reveal God's pending judgment on the king, he proceeds addressing the king as "My lord." His beginning statement is that he would prefer that what he was about to reveal would fall on Nebuchadnezzar's enemies rather than on the king himself. Concluding that diplomatic statement Daniel precedes to interpret the dream.
He explains to Nebuchadnezzar that the great tree which he saw in the dream was himself who had grown strong, great and whose kingdom now had expanded to the ends of the earth. Daniel then restates the declaration of the "watcher" which apparently was a messenger angel sent from God to reveal the vision to Nebuchadnezzar. The vision was from Almighty God, the most High and was His decree.
God reveals that He would cause this great haughty rebellious king to be humbled before Him and that Nebuchadnezzar would be driven from men and would dwell seven years as a beast of the field eating grass like an ox being openly exposed to the elements and the dew of heaven. God states the purpose of this humbling of the king was to teach him first hand who was truly the God of heaven who ruled the world and who sets up kings as it pleases Him. The stated time would be seven years until Nebuchadnezzar knew this truth without question and who would submit himself unto Almighty God.
Daniel continues and explains that the stump that was not destroyed meant that Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom would remain in tack and that he would once again rule, but from then on accepting fully that Jehovah God rules, and Nebuchadnezzar was His servant.
Daniel then appeals to Nebuchadnezzar to abandon his sinful and evil ways and show mercy to the poor so his state of tranquillity be lengthened. 2 Peter 3:9 states the truth that God is longsuffering, "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." Certainly God was longsuffering to Nebuchadnezzar in giving him the time to repent from his rebellion against God who had created him and set him on the throne of Babylon.
Yet, though warned of what would happen and being given the opportunity to repent, believe God and receive the blessings of God, Nebuchadnezzar continued to let his pride control him. For a full year after God's sending him the warning vision, Nebuchadnezzar remained unchanged.
Nebuchadnezzar recounts the wasted year and honestly reports what was in his heart. In the pride of his accomplishment he bragged, taking full credit for building the great Babylonian Empire and of his beautiful palace which he concluded testified of this power and honor of his majesty. He totally ignored the God who had created him and placed him in power, falsely taking credit for the work of God.
Yet, before the words were out of his mouth God spoke from heaven saying "Oh king, Nebuchadnezzar, to thee is it spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee." God remind him of the warning of the vision and that as He had stated His decree would be carried out. Nebuchadnezzar was struck down and became like an animal living in the fields, exposed to the elements and eating grass like an ox.
Further, Nebuchadnezzar states that his hair grew long like eagles feathers and his nails like the claws of a bird. There is a illness called boanthropy in which a man's mind sinks into insanity and he thinks that he is an animal and begins to live like one. Medically the disease of Boanthropy is a condition where the sufferer believes that they are an ox. The disease displays itself first by a tendency toward green vegetables and is therefore indistinguishable from vegetarianism, however the next stage (which occurs about five months after symptoms first appear) is unique to this particular mental condition, the sufferer will develop a liking for grass and some species of wild flowers at this stage the condition is irreversible. The third stage, characterized by mooing and snorting and the deep urge to plow fields, occurs only two months after symptoms first appear. This stage can last up to five years, but always results in coma and death, therefore it is not an affliction to be taken lightly. There have been documented cases where the sufferer has grown horns and taken to living in a stable. 1
However, we must be careful to be true to the text. Although the illness boanthropy produces the same symptoms, what Nebuchadnezzar experienced was a direct judgment of God. He did not slowly develop this illness, but was struck down immediately by the hand of God. God stripped him of any dignity and even of being a man. Probably the servants in the palace watched over him and some suggest that he was kept in one of the palace gardens. The Bible is silent concerning the succeeding seven years except lived like an ox.
When the seven years was over God restored Nebuchadnezzar to his sanity. The text says immediately the king lifted his eyes to heaven and his sanity was restored. Many men would have been bitter at experiencing the chastening hand of God, but the passage seems to point out the king had some faint glimmer of rationality and although he could not speak, in his heart he silently recognized the sovereignty of God by lifting his eyes to heaven.2 God's purpose in chastening Nebuchadnezzar was accomplished and with full repentance the king praised God and honored Him, ". . .who liveth forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion and his kingdom is from generation to generations." (Dan. 4:34).
Nebuchadnezzar continues in his discourse to fully acknowledge the greatness of God who is our Creator. Once Nebuchadnezzar would not accept God's authority and rule over his life. He would rebelled at the idea that God was greater than himself and had any part in his coming into power and building the Kingdom of Babylon. However, that foolishness was now gone and he humbly proclaims the majesty of Almighty God and His sovereignty over his life.
God then restored Nebuchadnezzar once again to power as the King of Babylon and Emperor of the Empire, but this time with a changed understanding of the reality of his existence and position. The king proclaimed "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" (Dan. 4:37). Nebuchadnezzar's confession plainly shows contrition and a changed heart. His words are that of a man converted to the truth who savingly acknowledges our God and Redeemer. Many is the sinner, resists the Lord's offer of grace and stubbornly refuses to submit to the truth they deep in their heart know is true. What a joy, however, it is to see the repentant sinner, admit his sin and humbly come to the Lord for salvation. Nebuchadnezzar unashamedly and truthfully lifts up the name of God and praises Him which reveals the great relief he now felt at having the burden of his pride and sin removed.
Abandoned was his acknowledgment of the nonexistent gods of polytheistic paganism. Two statements made by Daniel seem to positively refer to Nebuchadnezzar's redemption. Some has questioned whether Nebuchadnezzar was truly saved or not. The evidence is that in the closing verses of this chapter the king proclaimed God greatness and sovereignty without any reservation. Further when Daniel rebuked Belshazzar in Daniel 5:22-23 he reminded him that he had not humbled himself nor accepted God as Nebuchadnezzar had. Lastly, in Daniel's vision of Chapter 7 in referring to the Babylonian kingdom, God's description of Nebuchadnezzar is "The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man's heart was given to it." (Dan. 7:4) This acknowledges the change which occurred in the king's life. These evidences strongly suggest that Nebuchadnezzar believed God and was saved by faith the same as are all men who put their trust in the Lord.