The Agora
Bible Commentary

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Daniel 4

Dan 4:1

Dan 4: Nebuchadnezzar's pride and humbling: (1) Nebuchadnezzar's introductory doxology (vv 1-3); (2) The king's frustration over his second dream (vv 4-8); (3) Nebuchadnezzar's account of his dream (vv 9-18); (4) Daniel's interpretation (vv 19-27); (5) The fulfillment of threatened discipline (vv 28-33); (6) Nebuchadnezzar's restoration (vv 34-37).

The time of this incident seems to be considerably later than the event recorded in Dan 3 -- Nebuchadnezzar had finished extensive building projects (v 30). He reigned a total of 43 years (605-562 BC). Perhaps it was toward the end of his reign that these events transpired.

Dan 4:2

MIRACULOUS SIGNS AND WONDERS: Common Bible words used to describe miracles (cf Deu 6:22; 7:19; 13:1,2; 26:8; Neh 9:10; Isa 8:18; etc).

Dan 4:4

I, NEBUCHADNEZZAR, WAS AT HOME IN MY PALACE, CONTENTED AND PROSPEROUS: "The time of this dream was apparently later in Nebuchadnezzar's reign. Historians have identified a seven-year period during his reign when he engaged in no military activity (c 582-575 BC). This may be the seven years during which he was temporarily insane. If so, he may have had this dream in 583 or 582 BC. If this is the true date, Nebuchadnezzar would have defeated the Egyptians under Pharaoh Hophra (in 588-587 BC) and would have destroyed Jerusalem (in 586 BC) before he had this dream. In any case, he was at ease and resting in his palace when God gave him this revelation. Nebuchadnezzar described himself as flourishing in his palace... the original language pictures him flourishing as a green plant. This king built the famous hanging gardens of Babylon, which enriched his capital with luxuriant foliage. His description of himself here anticipates the figure of the tree in his dream that represented him" (Const).

Dan 4:6


Dan 4:7


Dan 4:8

THE SPIRIT OF THE HOLY GODS IS IN HIM: That this "elahin" (Aram "gods") is meant as a true plural -- rather than a plural of majesty -- is shown by the plural form of the adjective "qaddisin" (Aram "holy") accompanying it.

But of course, it is possible that Nebuchadnezzar was hereby referring to the One Great God of Israel -- whom he knew to be Daniel's God.

Dan 4:9

CHIEF OF THE MAGICIANS: By this he probably meant that Daniel was his chief interpreter of the future, not that he was the head of a group of magicians. Daniel's fame in this regard had evidently become well known (Eze 28:3).

Dan 4:10

A TREE: Which frequently signifies a great ruler of a nation: Isa 2:12,13; 10:34; Eze 31:3-17.

Dan 4:11

THE TREE GREW LARGE AND STRONG: Cp the parable of the mustard seed: Mat 13:31,32.

ITS TOP TOUCHED THE SKY: Like the tower of BABEL -- "with a tower that reaches to the heavens" (Gen 11:4).

Dan 4:13

COMING DOWN FROM HEAVEN: As God (or the "angels" He sent) "came down" to Babel (Gen 11:7).

Dan 4:14

CUT DOWN THE TREE...: "Nebuchadnezzar was very keen on felling cedars in Lebanon -- he did it personally: 'Under her shadow (Babylon) I gathered all even in peace... Mighty cedars with my own hands I cut down... Merodach... may my woodcutting prosper' -- And from a bas-relief in Wadi Brissa: the 'image of my royal person' is felling cedars" (WDan).

Nebuchadnezzar's fate would be the same as that of Assyria (cp v 10; and Eze 31:3-17).

Dan 4:15

BOUND WITH IRON AND BRONZE: . The significance of the iron and bronze band that bound the stump is questionable. It kept the tree stump from disintegrating. Perhaps it symbolized the madness that would bind Nebuchadnezzar or the fact that he would be protected while demented.

Dan 4:16

The Bible tells us generally that men who know not God, or who treat other men in a brutal fashion, are no better than "beasts", and that they will ultimately perish like beasts (Psa 49:12,20; Ecc 3:19,20). This is probably the rationale for Gentile oppressors of God's people being characterized as "beasts" of prey, in Daniel and elsewhere. The great "Beast" of Rev 13, with its 7 heads and 10 horns, also is said to have the number of a man (v 18), perhaps indicating that it represents a particular man. At least one man in OT times was actually made by God to be like a "beast". This was the great king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who recognized himself in the "head of gold" in the image of Dan 2, and whose great pride and arrogance brought upon him an unusual judgment from the Almighty: see Dan 4:16,25,32,33. Only a coincidence? Or does this suggest that the "Beast" of the Last Days will be Babylonian, as was the "Beast" Nebuchadnezzar? (See Lesson, Beasts, heads, and horns.)

SEVEN TIMES: The word "periods of time" ("iddanin") is indefinite; it does not indicate how long these periods of time are. It means years in Dan 7:25, and probably that is the meaning here too. Seven days or seven months would have been too short a time for his hair to have grown the length of feathers (v 33).

Dan 4:17

" 'God ruleth in the kingdom of men and giveth it to whomsoever He will.' It is this that imparts to political occurrences the character of signs of the times, in the discernments of such as are enlightened in the scriptures of truth. These occurrences, which to the natural man are the fortuitous changes of the hour, are to the other class the open and public expression of the secret and divine will which is moulding all public affairs, with a view to the appointed climax when all things will be gathered together under one head, even Christ. The recognition of this fact makes all the difference between the mere newspaper point of view, which is that of scientific Paganism, and the point of view of the Scriptures, from which we are able to see things as they appear to Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will, and who is guiding them to a determined end -- even the end proclaimed in the gospel of the kingdom and the promises made to the fathers in the beginning" (WP 335).

"Daniel tells us, in a sense that does not conflict with the Gospel of the kingdom, that He ruleth in the kingdoms of men, setting up some and putting down others. The kingdoms, now existing, are provisionally of God's appointment. God's purpose to make the earth a habitation of order, love, intelligence, and glory, requires a preliminary prevalence of evil, and yet the evil must be regulated. If evil were allowed to run riot, it would make the world a desert, in which it would be impossible for the preliminary work of trial in patient obedience to be done; we could never assemble here this morning if evil were not controlled in its operations. There is a necessity for a certain machinery to exist, and God has appointed that machinery, but only for mechanical service. It is, so to speak, but the scaffolding for the erection of the future building. They are a crude work, the saints are called to a higher work in all respects. Even now it is highest work to preach the Gospel of the future kingdom" (SC 116).

Cp Dan 2:21; Deu 28; Isa 10:5-7; Jer 25:15-32; 27:5-17; 51:11; Eze 29:18; 30:24; 38:16-21; Hab 1:6-12; Zeph 1:14-17; 1Sa 2:7,8; Job 5:11. God does not need the mighty to do His work. Therefore it is foolish to become proud over one's accomplishments and importance, as Nebuchadnezzar was.

God had sought to impress His sovereignty on Nebuchadnezzar previously (Dan 2; 3), but the king had not learned his lesson. So the LORD sent him a stronger lesson. This is often what He does (cf Job 33:141-7). The last part of this v is really a summary of the main theme of the Book of Daniel.

AND SETS OVER THEM THE LOWLIEST OF MEN: In his inscriptions, Nebuchadnezzar speaks of his father Nabopolassar as "son of a nobody", while he -- Nebuchadnezzar -- has become "the magnificent one."

THE LOWLIEST OF MEN: KJV has the "basest of men". But not necessarily the most wicked of men. Points to Christ, the humblest of men, because he relied on his Father altogether. And because he humbled himself, even unto the death of the cross, therefore God will exalt him above all others (Phi 2:5-11).

Dan 4:18

NONE OF THE WISE MEN IN MY KINGDOM CAN INTERPRET IT FOR ME: It seems incredible that the Babylonian soothsayers could not offer an interpretation of this dream since its meaning seems quite transparent. Perhaps God hid the meaning from them, or maybe they pretended ignorance of it since it predicted Nebuchadnezzar's humiliation, and they would not have wanted to tell him of that.

Dan 4:19

DANIEL... WAS GREATLY PERPLEXED FOR A TIME, AND HIS THOUGHTS TERRIFIED HIM: "This verse reveals the heart of Daniel as well as any in the entire book of Daniel. He knew the meaning of this dream and how well Nebuchadnezzar deserved what was to come upon him. Nevertheless, Daniel's heart was concerned for the king and grieved over what he had to tell him. This was the distinctive feature of the true prophets of God: though they often had to predict judgments, they were nevertheless grieved when any of God's creatures were chastised" (Feinberg, "Daniel").

Dan 4:23

LET HIM LIVE LIKE THE WILD ANIMALS: Such mental illness has actually been observed and recorded: men acting like wild beasts, in outward appearance and actions, while still retaining more or less reasonable mental abilities. Of course, the Bible tells us that men who know not God are in fact like the beasts that perish (Psa 49:12,20).

UNTIL SEVEN TIMES PASS BY FOR HIM: Figurative, perhaps, of "seven times" of Gentile madness. At the end of this time, Gentile powers (symbolized by Nebuchadnezzar here) acknowledge the power and authority of the Almighty God of Israel (vv 34-37).

Suggested periods (as per CH views): 7 times 360 years, or 2,520 years: from 606 BC (Nebuchadnezzar's accession) / 536 BC (abasement of Jews) ... 1914 / 1984 (the period marking the beginning of the renewal of Israel; Balfour Declaration; independence of Israel; etc).

Or, perhaps, much more simply: "seven times" sig the "fullness, or completeness" of Gentile times (ie, Rom 11:25) -- without regard to exact times!

Dan 4:27

Daniel's call to true repentance -- which seems to have an effect on the king, if only temporarily.

Dan 4:28

Vv 28-33: Nebuchadnezzar is "put out to pasture"!

Dan 4:29

TWELVE MONTHS LATER: Perhaps Nebuchadnezzar repented, initially, but after a year he reverted to his great pride and arrogance, and was then smitten.

Dan 4:30

IS NOT THIS THE GREAT BABYLON I HAVE BUILT... BY MY MIGHTY POWER AND FOR THE GLORY OF MY MAJESTY?: "The palace from which he surveyed Babylon was one of the citadels on the north side of the city. It had large courts, reception rooms, throne room, residences, and the famous hanging gardens, a vaulted, terraced structure with an elaborate water supply for its trees and plants, apparently built by Nebuchadnezzar for his Median queen. From the palace he would see in the distance the city's 27 km outer double wall, which he had built. His palace stood just inside the double wall of the inner city, which was punctuated by eight gates and encircled an area 3 km by 1 km, with the Euphrates running through it. The palace adjoined a processional avenue that Nebuchadnezzar had paved with limestone and decorated with lion figures, emblematic of Ishtar; this avenue entered the city through the Ishtar Gate, which he had decorated with dragons and bulls (emblems of Marduk and Bel). It continued south through the city to the most important sacred precincts, to whose beautifying and development Nebuchadnezzar had contributed, the ziggurat crowned by a temple of Marduk where the god's statue resided. In Marduk's temple there were also shrines to other gods, and in the city elsewhere temples of other Babylonian gods, restored or beautified by Nebuchadnezzar" (Goldingay, cited in Const).

"Pride is a kind of plagiarism. It attempts to grasp for ourselves the glory which belongs to another. Nebuchadnezzar took all the glory for the greatness of his kingdom; he did not give glory to God. In effect, he began to set himself in the seat of God, reminiscent of other glory-seeking creatures... (see Isa 14 and Eze 28). Taking glory which does not belong to us causes us to see ourselves as better than others. Pride ignores and denies the truth that prosperity comes from God, as a gift of His grace, and not the reward for our greatness. Pride also interprets others' poverty as proof of inferiority and the penalty for inferiority. Sooner or later, pride justifies the use of power as rightly taking advantage of the poor to gain from their weakness" (Deff).

What did King Nebuchadnezzar of ancient Babylon and Nikolai Ceausescu of present-day Romania have in common? Both were ruthless dictators who fell after boldly exalting themselves.

Nebuchadnezzar brazenly declared that he had built the great city of Babylon by his own power and for the honor of his majesty (Dan 4:30). God humbled him by driving him into the wilderness with a mental illness.

Ceausescu, after years of cruelly persecuting Christians and killing all potential threats to his power, instructed the National Opera to produce a song in his honor that included these words: "Ceausescu is good, righteous, and holy." He wanted this song to be sung on his 72nd birthday on January 26, 1990, but on December 25, 1989, he and his wife were executed. Although his overthrow was part of the anticommunist revolution that swept through eastern Europe, many Christians see his sudden downfall as an act of God. One Romanian, Peter Dugulescu, said that it was "because he took for himself the glory of God".

Dan 4:33

Since this madness lasted 7 years, how did Nebuchadnezzar not lose control of his empire? Did Daniel perhaps act as his regent, maintaining his kingdom for him until his senses returned?

Dan 4:34

AT THE END OF THAT TIME, I, NEBUCHADNEZZAR, RAISED MY EYES TOWARD HEAVEN: What a scene! What a treatise, what a revelation is comprehended in a few words! The "wild beast" finally lifts his eyes up to heaven -- realizing that there is in fact a God enthroned there... one higher and more powerful than he! In this simple act there is the profoundest repentance. The man who has lived like a beast, whose thoughts and "spirit" have been pointed downward, to the earth (Eccl 3:21), now looks UP! And his spirit soars to the heavens, where his new God dwells! He now sets his mind, and affections, on things above (Col 3:2).

Dan 4:35

"In Dan 4 Nebuchadnezzar reaches a new spiritual perspicacity. Prior to his experience of insanity, his confessions were those of a pagan whose polytheism permitted the addition of new gods, as illustrated in Dan 2:47; 3:28,29. Now Nebuchadnezzar apparently worships the King of heaven only. For this reason, his autobiography is truly remarkable and reflects the fruitfulness of Daniel's influence upon him and probably of Daniel's daily prayers for him. Certainly God is no respecter of persons and can save the high and mighty in this world as well as the lowly" (Walvoord, cited in Const).

What we can say certainly is that Nebuchadnezzar moved from acknowledging the sovereignty of no one but himself to acknowledging Yahweh's sovereignty over him.

Previous Index Next