The Humbling of Nebuchadnezzar [Daniel 4]
The secular world of politics and governments with their kings, presidents, and prime ministers, go about conducting their business as if there were no God. Similar to Psalm 14:1. Even if they claim some religious affections toward God, they certainly direct and orchestrate both their personal and public affairs with a strict mindset of radical autonomy.
Perhaps these officials obtained their high positions because they were born into the right family, or possessed the appropriate amount of money, or had the most winsome personality. Maybe it was the media who favored them over other candidates for the job. What ever the case, the success of a politician is seen as his own doing; God may be acknowledged, but He certainly didn’t have any thing to do with a person’s rise to power.
When we come to Daniel chapter 4, this is definitely the mindset of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Babylonian empire. But God reveals to him in quite a clear way that He alone is the sovereign controller of all the dealing of men upon the earth. God is the one who brings a king to favor, nations to glory, or to ultimate ruin.
This chapter is not only our reminder of God’s sovereignty, but also our exhortation to trust God when the governments do not favor God’s people or perhaps stand against God and His ways. The reason why they even function is due in part to God sovereignly establishing them and granting them the temporary authority to rule.
In an interesting twist, God instructs us through the pen of the very king who was humbled before God. Practically the entire chapter is written in first person, except the portion when the narrator is unable to function. It is the only portion in the Bible written by a pagan king.
I. The Decree (4:1-3)
Neb. begins his narrative with a decree. He makes this decree near the end of his life before he dies. His decree is to call all the nations and languages to consider the true and living God. It is a declaration by a pagan king calling upon his subjects to recognize the true and living God.
This decree is first directed toward everyone in the known Babylonian empire.
Next, the decree must be heeded because this living God is a God of signs and wonders. He performs miraculous events that call forth wonder. Such things as having knowledge of a person’s intimate dreams (Dan. 2) and who moves to protect His people from destruction (Dan. 3).
Neb. can make this decree because he is a personal eye-witness to these things of which he speaks. This calls into question the credibility as the king, so he is going out on a bit of a limb at this point.
II. The Dream (4:4-18)
Neb. recalls a specific dream he had and the events that transpired after the dream.
He was flourishing in his palace. The Aramaic phrase means “growing green like a tree.” This is an interesting expression considering the dream he is about to tell. His dream entails a giant tree in which all the birds of the heavens and beasts of the field found a home underneath it’s shade. But then the tree is told to be cut down and it is stripped of its leaves and branches, and the animals all fled from it. The tree stump is then personified as a “him” and “he” is told that his heart will be changed like a beasts for 7 times.
The dream disturbed Neb. to the point of being afraid. He called his magicians, but none were able to tell him the dream. So, as he did at the beginning of his reign, he calls Daniel. Now the question is asked, Why did the king wait to call Daniel? Many critics of Daniel’s prophecy believe this is a great difficulty. Daniel was the chief of the magicians. Did Neb. forget Dan. 2? It could be that Neb. knew Daniel would speak the truth to him and he didn’t want a bad answer.
But Neb. knew the God of holiness indwelt him with a unique knowledge. Daniel is called and Neb tells him the dream.
The “tree” is a typical symbol for those in power. For instance, Ezekiel 31:33ff called the Assyrian king a great cedar. Knowing the extent of the Babylonian’s empire and the nations they controlled, the picture of a massive tree is appropriate in describing them.
This tree, as great as it is, however, is declared from heaven to be chopped down. The text states a watcher/a holy one made this declaration. This unique term describes a heavenly being or divine entity. An angelic being, perhaps the Angel of the LORD, speaking judgment against the Babylonian kingdom. The declaration turns from a general pronouncement against Babylon to a specific individual. A he is to have his heart changed like a beast. Because Neb. is the center around which the Babylonian empire turns, the he can only mean Neb.
When Daniel is called and Neb. describes the dream for him, he becomes troubled. Daniel knows the ramifications of the dream. He interprets the dream for Neb. and states how this dream is meant for him to specifically inform him of God’s sovereignty (4:25). Neb. is to be humbled till you know that the Most High rule in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses. God is gracious as well, because even though Neb. will experience a humiliation like no other, the stump of the tree is left and this means God will restore Neb.’s kingdom to him.
III. The Disgrace (4:28-33)
Approximately a year or so later, the text of Daniel says Neb. was walking about his palace, musing to himself of how he had built this great empire of Babylon (Neb. was known as a great builder), when he heard a voice from heaven reminding him of the dream from the past year. At that very hour, Neb. was struck down and he became like a beast of the field.
There exists a rare mental illness called clinical lycanthropy in which a person exists in a delusional state thinking he is an animal. Though these cases have been documented, Daniel’s revelation tells us in Neb.’s case, it was supernaturally wrought.
This change takes place 7 times, which if the word times is taken as it means throughout the revelation of Daniel, times means years. For 7 years, Neb. has his heart changed like a beast. Neb. reigned 43 years, 605-562 BC. Taking the 7 times as 7 years, this happened no later than 572-571 BC. Two historians, Berosus in the 3rd century BC and Abydenus in the 2nd century BC, record these events happened to Neb. late in his life.
IV. The Deliverance (4:34-36)
At the end of the appointed time, Neb. is delivered from his insanity and placed back upon his throne of his kingdom just as God said would happen.
But, not only was Neb. delivered from his insanity, he is delivered from his false religion. People ask, “Did Neb. get saved?” I believe he did based upon the following facts of his testimony:
– He recognizes the eternal sovereignty of the true God of heaven. No one, no matter how powerful, can restrain his hand.
– He gave praise unto the Lord as his rightful sovereign.
– He calls upon his subjects to honor the true God of heaven.