Another dream...but this time the interpretation is terrifying and bizarre! Learn how it still applies to us today.
The stories of the book of Daniel are not a complete chronicle of his time in captivity, nor are they meant to give the details of the entire reign of Nebuchadnezzar or any other king. They are selected pieces that are written to the nation of Israel that is in exile. As such, they are meant to highlight some specific things:
When we reach chapter 4 of Daniel, we have a shift. The chapter is predominantly written in Aramaic which is the language of Babylon. In addition, it is written as if it is Nebuchadnezzar writing it. It starts out with an introduction, goes into the story, and then ends with a prologue.
Daniel 4:1–3 (CSB) — 1 King Nebuchadnezzar, To those of every people, nation, and language, who live on the whole earth: May your prosperity increase. 2 I am pleased to tell you about the miracles and wonders the Most High God has done for me. 3 How great are his miracles, and how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.
The last story we read was about this same king erecting a 90’ statue of gold and demanding that everyone bow down and worship his gods.
We read this proclamation from Neb and we must just scratch our heads. WHY? What has changed in his life that would make this guy proclaim the praises of the Highest God?
If this was today and we saw someone with such a drastic change we might ask, “Did they find Jesus?” lol.
In a similar fashion we are left wondering what has transpired between Neb & Yahweh that would create such a transformation. The introduction has hooked us, and we now have to know the details of what took place.
Daniel 4:4–18 (CSB) — 4 I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and flourishing in my palace. 5 I had a dream, and it frightened me; while in my bed, the images and visions in my mind alarmed me. 6 So I issued a decree to bring all the wise men of Babylon to me in order that they might make the dream’s interpretation known to me. 7 When the magicians, mediums, Chaldeans, and diviners came in, I told them the dream, but they could not make its interpretation known to me. 8 Finally Daniel, named Belteshazzar after the name of my god—and a spirit of the holy gods is in him—came before me. I told him the dream: 9 “Belteshazzar, head of the magicians, because I know that you have the spirit of the holy gods and that no mystery puzzles you, explain to me the visions of my dream that I saw, and its interpretation.
Nebuchadnezzar points out that life was good at that time. There was peace in the kingdom, he was relaxing and having no concerns whatsoever UNTIL this dreamed happened. Though there was peace in the kingdom there was unrest and anxiety in his heart.
So, he calls ALL the people who might be able to explain the dream. All of them, that is, except Daniel. They cannot help.
So, he calls Belteshazzar!
At that point, Neb was very clear to point out certain things about his beliefs. He called on Daniel (at that time) as one who is connected to “a holy god” and one of many gods. This is where the story really left off after the idol.
10 In the visions of my mind as I was lying in bed, I saw this: There was a tree in the middle of the earth, and it was very tall. 11 The tree grew large and strong; its top reached to the sky, and it was visible to the ends of the earth. 12 Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit was abundant, and on it was food for all. Wild animals found shelter under it, the birds of the sky lived in its branches, and every creature was fed from it. 13 “As I was lying in my bed, I also saw in the visions of my mind a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven. 14 He called out loudly: Cut down the tree and chop off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it, and the birds from its branches. 15 But leave the stump with its roots in the ground and with a band of iron and bronze around it in the tender grass of the field. Let him be drenched with dew from the sky and share the plants of the earth with the animals. 16 Let his mind be changed from that of a human, and let him be given the mind of an animal for seven periods of time. 17 This word is by decree of the watchers, and the decision is by command from the holy ones. This is so that the living will know that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms. He gives them to anyone he wants and sets the lowliest of people over them. 18 This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, tell me the interpretation, because none of the wise men of my kingdom can make the interpretation known to me. But you can, because you have a spirit of the holy gods.”
We will get to the interpretation soon enough, but I want to point out a few things first:
The Tree: this imagery of a garden, though not THE garden. It is interesting that God used a tree to symbolize the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar. The tree:
Jesus used similar tree and creature imagery to describe the kingdom of God:
Matthew 13:31–32 (CSB) — 31 He presented another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It’s the smallest of all the seeds, but when grown, it’s taller than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the sky come and nest in its branches.”
The watchers: this word is only used 3 times in the OT and all of them are in this chapter of Daniel. It is therefore a bit obscure, though most will relate it to angels or some form of divine messenger.
NOTE: this has similar tones to the court room dialog found in the beginning of the book of Job!
The purpose: we are told the purpose of the dream and what events the dream is predicting: “This is so that the living will know that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms. He gives them to anyone he wants and sets the lowliest of people over them.”
Daniel 4:19–27 (CSB) — 19 Then Daniel, whose name is Belteshazzar, was stunned for a moment, and his thoughts alarmed him. The king said, “Belteshazzar, don’t let the dream or its interpretation alarm you.” Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, may the dream apply to those who hate you, and its interpretation to your enemies!
We have a transition at this point. First, Daniel’s Hebrew name is introduced. The king still calls him by his Babylonian name. Also, the perspective of the storyteller changes. Apparently, Nebuchadnezzar is not telling this part of the story.
Daniel is afraid. I can imagine there could be two reasons. I think Daniel really was concerned about the king! As a follower of Yahweh it is your nature, because it is His nature, to care for others, even those that do not acknowledge God. But second, there would certainly be fear in presenting bad news to the king because it could cost you your life!
20 The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, whose top reached to the sky and was visible to the whole earth, 21 and whose leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant—and on it was food for all, under it the wild animals lived, and in its branches the birds of the sky lived—22 that tree is you, Your Majesty. For you have become great and strong: your greatness has grown and even reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to the ends of the earth. 23 “The king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump with its roots in the ground and with a band of iron and bronze around it in the tender grass of the field. Let him be drenched with dew from the sky and share food with the wild animals for seven periods of time.’ 24 This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree of the Most High that has been issued against my lord the king: 25 You will be driven away from people to live with the wild animals. You will feed on grass like cattle and be drenched with dew from the sky for seven periods of time, until you acknowledge that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms, and he gives them to anyone he wants. 26 As for the command to leave the tree’s stump with its roots, your kingdom will be restored to you as soon as you acknowledge that Heaven rules. 27 Therefore, may my advice seem good to you my king. Separate yourself from your sins by doing what is right, and from your injustices by showing mercy to the needy. Perhaps there will be an extension of your prosperity.”
The decree: though the original dream seemed to declare that the sentence was from the holy ones (watchers), Daniel clarifies a bit for us that this is a decree of the “Most High”.
“Most High” in Daniel is another unique Hebrew word. It appears 10 times in the OT and all in Daniel. There is another form of it that appears 4 times in the OT and all of those are in Daniel. In this passage the phrase carries with it the idea of superior or the highest. In reference to this dream it appears to be a direct statement that though Nebuchadnezzar has been majestic, God is more so; though Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom is great, Gods is greater; though Neb has many gods, Yahweh is superior to all others.
Daniel 4:28–33 (CSB) — 28 All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 At the end of twelve months, as he was walking on the roof of the royal palace in Babylon, 30 the king exclaimed, “Is this not Babylon the Great that I have built to be a royal residence by my vast power and for my majestic glory?” 31 While the words were still in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven: “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared that the kingdom has departed from you. 32 You will be driven away from people to live with the wild animals, and you will feed on grass like cattle for seven periods of time, until you acknowledge that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms, and he gives them to anyone he wants.” 33 At that moment the message against Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people. He ate grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with dew from the sky, until his hair grew like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.
Daniel’s recommendation was for repentance. God waited 12 months to carry out his judgement, which could be viewed as an act of mercy.
This part of the store is told NOT from Nuchadnezzar, perhaps to illustrate or emphasize the story telling perspective that Neb was not of his right mind and cold not tell it.
Boanthropy is a documented form of psychosis, and many people believe this is what Nebuchadnezzar was plagued with. As a matter of fact, when you read definitions of the condition, most will reference Nebuchadnezzar!
At the time that Nebuchadnezzar makes the greatest boast, God enforced his sentence. Notice the boasting of Nebuchadnezzar:
It is not wrong that Nebuchadnezzar was enjoying his wealth and his kingdom. I think Ecclesiastes would declare that as appropriate.
The problem is taking the credit from God. Neb had his kingdom because God gave it to him.
Daniel 4:34–37 (CSB) — 34 But at the end of those days, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven, and my sanity returned to me. Then I praised the Most High and honored and glorified him who lives forever: For his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation. 35 All the inhabitants of the earth are counted as nothing, and he does what he wants with the army of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. There is no one who can block his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” 36 At that time my sanity returned to me, and my majesty and splendor returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and my nobles sought me out, I was reestablished over my kingdom, and even more greatness came to me. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt, and glorify the King of the heavens, because all his works are true and his ways are just. He is able to humble those who walk in pride.
The voice of the narration changes back to Nebuchadnezzar and it is him speaking once again. Once he was back in his right mind, he was able to speak on his own behalf. At this point we get the conclusion or prologue. We are given the full message that was only hinted at in the beginning:
Basically, Nebuchadnezzar was reaffirming what Solomon had already declared in the proverbs:
Proverbs 19:21 (CSB) — 21 Many plans are in a person’s heart, but the LORD’s decree will prevail.
SIMILAR to Job, after this humbling and after this encounter with God, Nebuchadnezzar was given back what he lost and even more.
The result is found in the last verse:
Daniel 4:37 (CSB) — 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt, and glorify the King of the heavens, because all his works are true and his ways are just. He is able to humble those who walk in pride.
The purpose of God was fulfilled!
Nebuchadnezzar was a changed man. Our opening dialog showed a changed man, but now we know what took place in his life- He encountered a holy God.
When we encounter a holy God and are humbled by his greatness and our brokenness, it should result in us being willing to admit that he IS God and that we need him. When that happens it WILL change us, and others around may even wonder what has happened to make us so different. That is what an encounter with a holy God can do.
NOTE: When God elevates us and make us successful it is easy to bless him (Daniel1). When we experience the protection of God it is easy to bless God (Sadrach, Meshach and Abednego). But have you ever considered that the discipline of God is also something to praise God for? As we are humbled before God we grow in our fear of him and understanding of his compassion and justice.
Proverbs 3:11–12 (NLT) — 11 My child, don’t reject the LORD’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. 12 For the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.
For the exiles, this was perhaps a half a lifetime in captivity – so being reminded that the “new norm” is not the long-term norm that God intends is a great comfort and one we can use today as well. For them it was a reminder that God still has a plan and a kingdom that will be established. This kingdom of God is what the Messiah will usher in and what the exilic and post-exilic Jews will be looking for, and it was the main message of Jesus during his time on earth.
For you and me, it is a reminder that the kingdoms of this earth (whether political or of our own making) are not going to last. It is a reminder that the season we are in is not going to last. That in the end, it is God’s mission and purpose that will prevail.
It is also a reminder that we should be vigilant to watch out for pride, especially when we think about our accomplishments: careers, education, homes, etc.
1 John 2:15–17 (NLT) — 15 Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. 17 And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.