Chapter 4: NEBUCHADNEZZAR’S DECREE

“VERSE 1. Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. 2. I thought it good to show the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me. 3. 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.”

This chapter opens, says Dr. Clarke, with “a regular decree, and one of the most ancient on record.” It was from the pen of Nebuchadnezzar, and was promulgated in the usual form. He wishes to make known, not to a few men only, but to all peoples, nations, and languages, the wonderful dealings of God with him. People are ever ready to tell what
God has done for them in the way of benefits and blessings. We ought to be no less ready to tell what God has done for us in the way of humiliation and chastisements; and Nebuchadnezzar set us a good example in this
respect, as we shall see from the subsequent portions of this chapter. He frankly confesses the vanity and pride of his heart, and the means that God took to abase him. With a genuine spirit of repentance and humiliation, he thinks it good, of his own free will, to show these things, that the sovereignty of God may be extolled, and his name adored. In reference to the kingdom, he no longer claims immutability for his own, but makes a full surrender to God, acknowledging his kingdom alone to be everlasting, and his dominion from generation to generation.

“VERSE 4. I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in mine house and flourishing in my palace: 5. I saw a dream which made me afraid, and the thoughts upon my bed and the visions of my head troubled me. 6. 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. 7. Then came in the magicians, astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers; and I told the dream before them; but they did not make known unto me the interpretation thereof. 8. 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, 9. 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. 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 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 the man’s, and let a beast’s heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over his 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. 18. 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.”

In the events here narrated, several striking points may be noticed. 1. Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in his house. He had accomplished successfully all his enterprises. He had subdued Syria, Phoenicia, Judea, Egypt, and Arabia. It was probably these great conquests that puffed him up, and betrayed him into such vanity and self-confidence. And this very time, when he felt most at rest and secure, when it was most unlikely that he would allow a thought to disturb his self-complacent tranquility, – this very time God takes to trouble him with fears and forebodings.
2. The means by which God did this. What could strike with fear the heart of such a monarch as Nebuchadnezzar? He had been a warrior from his youth. With the perils of battle, the terrors of slaughter and carnage, he had often stood face to face, and his countenance had not blanched, nor his nerves trembled. And what should make him afraid now? No foe threatened, no hostile cloud was visible? As the most unlikely time was taken for him to be touched with fear, so the most unlikely means was selected by which to accomplish it – a dream. His own thoughts, and the visions of his own head, were taken to teach him what nothing else could, – a salutary lesson of dependence and humility. He who had terrified others, but whom no others could terrify, was made a terror to himself. 3. A still greater humiliation than that narrated in the second chapter was brought upon the magicians. There, they boasted that if they only had the dream, they could make known the interpretation. Here, Nebuchadnezzar distinctly remembers the dream, but meets the mortification of having his magicians ignominiously fail him again. They could not make known the interpretation, and resort is again had to the prophet of God. 4. The remarkable illustration of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. This is symbolized by a tree in the midst of the earth.
Babylon, where Nebuchadnezzar reigned, was about in the center of the then known world. The tree reached unto heaven, and the leaves thereof were fair. Its external glory and splendor were great; but this was not all of it, as is the case with too many kingdoms. It had internal excellences. Its fruit was much, and it had meat for all. The beasts of the field had shadow under it, the fowls of heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it. What could represent more plainly and forcibly the fact that Nebuchadnezzar ruled his kingdom in such a way as to afford the fullest protection, support, and prosperity to all his subjects? 5. The mercy that God mingles with his judgments. When order was given that this tree should be cut down, it was commanded that the stump of the roots should be left in the earth, and protected with a band of iron and brass, that it might not be wholly given to decay, but that the source of future growth and greatness might be left. The day is coming when the wicked shall be cut down, and no such residue of hope be left them. No mercy will be mingled with their punishment. They shall be destroyed both root and branch. 6. An important key to prophetic interpretation. Verse 16. “Let seven times pass over him,” said the decree. This is plain, literal narration; hence the time is here to be understood literally. How long a period is denoted? This may be determined by ascertaining how long Nebuchadnezzar, in fulfilment of this prediction, was driven out to have his dwelling with the beasts of the field; and this, Josephus informs us, was seven years. A “time,” then, denotes one year. When used in symbolic prophecy, it would, of course, denote symbolic or prophetic time. A “time” would then denote a prophetic year, or, each day standing for a year, three hundred and sixty literal years. In Bible chronology thirty days are reckoned to the month, and 360 days to the year. See Gen.7:11;8:3,4; “Sacred Chronology,” by S.Bliss, under “The Day, Week, etc.” 7. The interest that the holy ones, or angels, take in human affairs. They are represented as demanding this dealing with Nebuchadnezzar. They see, as mortals never can
see, how unseemly a thing is pride in the human heart. And they approve of, and sympathize with, the decrees and providences of God by which he works for the correction of these evils. Man must know that he is not the architect of his own fortune, but that there is One who ruleth in the kingdom of men, on whom his dependence should be humbly placed. A man may be a successful monarch, but he should not pride himself upon that; for unless the Lord had set him up, he would never have reached this position of honor.
8. Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges the supremacy of the true God over the heathen oracles. He appeals to Daniel to solve the mystery. “Thou art able,” he says; “for the spirit of the holy gods is in thee.” The Septuagint has the singular, the Spirit of the holy God.

“VERSE 19. 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. 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. 23. 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; 24. This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which is come upon my lord the king; 25. 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. 26. 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. 27. 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 tranquillity.”

The hesitation of Daniel, who sat astonished for one hour, did not arise from any difficulty he had in interpreting the dream, but from its being so delicate a matter to make it known to the king. Daniel had received favor from the king, – nothing but favor, so far as we know, – and it came hard for him to be the bearer of so terrible a threatening judgment against him as was involved in this dream. He was troubled to determine in what way he could best make it known. It seems the king had anticipated something of this kind, and hence assured the prophet by telling him not to let the dream or the interpretation trouble him; as if he had said, Do not hesitate to make it known, whatever bearing it may have upon me. Thus assured, Daniel speaks; and where can we find a parallel to the force and delicacy of his language: “The dream be to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies.” A calamity is set forth in this dream, which we would might come upon your enemies rather than upon you. Nebuchadnezzar had given a minute statement of his dream; and as soon as Daniel informed him that the dream applied to himself, it was evident that he had pronounced his own sentence. The interpretation which follows is so plain that it need not detain us. The threatened judgments were conditional. They were to teach the king that the Heavens do rule, the word heavens here being put for God, the ruler of the heavens. Hence Daniel takes occasion to give the king counsel in view of the threatened judgment. But he does not denounce him with harshness and censoriousness. Kindness and persuasion are the weapons he chooses to wield: “Let my counsel be acceptable unto thee.” So the apostle beseeches men to suffer the word of exhortation. Heb.13:22. If the king would break off his sins by righteousness, and his iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, it might result in a lengthening of his tranquillity, or, as the margin reads, “An healing of thine error.” That is, he might even have averted the judgment the Lord designed to bring upon him.

“VERSE 28. All this came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar. 29. At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom o
Babylon. 30. 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 honor of my majesty? 31. 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. 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 eagle’s feathers, and his nails like bird claws.”

Nebuchadnezzar failed to profit by the warning he had received; yet God bore with him twelve months before the blow fell. All the time he was cherishing pride in his heart, and at length it reached a climax beyond which God could not suffer it to pass. The king walked in the palace, and as he looked forth upon the wonders of that wonder of the world, great Babylon, the beauty of kingdoms, he forgot the source of all his strength and greatness, and exclaimed, “Is not this the great Babylon, that I have built?” The time had come for his humiliation. A voice from heaven again announces the threatened judgment, and divine Providence proceeds immediately to execute it. His reason departed. No longer the pomp and glory of his great city charmed him, when God with a touch of his finger took away his capability to appreciate and enjoy it. He forsook the dwellings of men, and sought a home and companionship among the beasts of the forest.

“VERSE 34. 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 honored him that liveth forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: 35. 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? 36. At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honor and brightness returned unto me; and my counselors 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 honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment; and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.”

At the end of seven years, God removed his afflicting hand, and the reason and understanding of the king returned to him again. His first act then was to bless the Most High. On this Matthew Henry has the following appropriate remark: “Those may justly be reckoned void of understanding that do not bless and praise God; nor do men ever rightly use their reason till they begin to be religious, nor live as men till they live to the glory of God. As reason is the substratum or subject of religion (so that creatures which have no reason are not capable of religion), so religion is the crown and glory of reason; and we have our reason in vain, and shall one day wish we had never had it, if we do not glorify God with it.” His honor and brightness returned to him, his counselors sought unto him, and he was once more established in the kingdom. The promise was (verse 26) that his kingdom should be sure unto him. During his insanity, his son, Evil-merodach, is said to have reigned as regent in his stead. Daniel’s interpretation of the dream was doubtless well understood throughout the palace, and was probably more or less the subject of conversation. Hence the return of Nebuchadnezzar to his kingdom must have been anticipated, and looked for with interest. Why he was permitted to make his home in the open field in so forlorn a condition, instead of being comfortably cared for by the attendants of the palace, we are not informed. It is supposed that he dexterously escaped from the palace, and eluded all search. The affliction had its designed effect. The lesson of humility was learned. He did not forget it with returning prosperity. He was ready to acknowledge that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever he will; and he sent forth through all his realm a royal proclamation, containing an acknowledgment of his pride, and a manifesto of praise and adoration to the King of heaven. This is the last Scripture record we have of Nebuchadnezzar. This decree is dated in the authorized version, says Dr. Clarke, 563 B.C., one year before Nebuchadnezzar’s death; though some place the date of this decree seventeen years before his death. Be this as it may, it is probable that he did not again relapse into idolatry, but died in the faith of the God of Israel. Thus closed the life of this remarkable man. With all the temptations incident to his exalted position as king, may we not suppose that God saw in him honesty of heart, integrity, and purity of purpose, which he could use to the glory of his name? Hence his wonderful dealings with him, all of which seem to have been designed to wean him from his false religion, and attach him to the service of the true God. We have, first, his dream of the great image, containing such a valuable lesson for the people of all coming generations. Secondly, his experience with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego in reference to his golden image, wherein he was again led to an acknowledgment of the supremacy of the true God. And lastly, we have the wonderful incidents recorded in this chapter, showing the still unceasing efforts of the Lord to bring him to a full acknowledgment of himself. And may we not hope that the most illustrious king of the first prophetic kingdom, the head of gold, may at last have part in that kingdom before which all earthly kingdoms shall become as chaff, and the glory of which shall never dim?

(From U.Smith’s book Daniel and Revelation)

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