For more study see commentary on Daniel 4.
I don’t know if you’ve spent much time thinking about who you want to meet in heaven. A number of people talk about wanting to meet Peter or Paul or some hero of the Bible like Daniel or David. I can’t be sure if it will matter to us when we get there or not. But from an earthly perspective at least, Daniel 4 contains the story of why Nebuchadnezzar is towards the top of my list of people that I look forward to meeting in heaven.
Stories of incredible life transformations are always amazing to me. We don’t have the apostles performing miracles today like in the early church. However, we can what I would consider even more incredible miracles taking place. People’s lives are changed by the gospel. They go from a destructive path of sin to a repentant heart in an instant.
Daniel 4 is the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion. He begins as a proud man who believes that he holds the power to do everything he pleases. He ends by acknowledging God is able to humble those who walk in pride.
Daniel 4 is actually written by Nebuchadnezzar. A pagan king is used to write part of the Bible. The man who destroyed Jerusalem, leveled the temple of God, and enslaved the people of Israel is not only used by God but is brought to salvation and used to write part of scripture. This is a remarkable turnaround that only God can accomplish.
Nebuchadnezzar begins to tell his testimony in Daniel 4:1-3
1 King Nebuchadnezzar,
To the peoples, nations and men of every language, who live in all the world:
May you prosper greatly!
2 It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.
3 How great are his signs,
how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an eternal kingdom;
his dominion endures from generation to generation.
Nebuchadnezzar recognizes that the fulfillment of his dream is miraculous but even more miraculous is the way that his life was changed because of it. Because of what God has done in his life, he praises that Lord.
4 I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous. 5 I had a dream that made me afraid. As I was lying in my bed, the images and visions that passed through my mind terrified me. 6 So I commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be brought before me to interpret the dream for me. 7 When the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners came, I told them the dream, but they could not interpret it for me. 8 Finally, Daniel came into my presence and I told him the dream. (He is called Belteshazzar, after the name of my god, and the spirit of the holy gods is in him.)
There are obvious parallels to this time when Nebuchadnezzar dreamed and his dream of a statue in Daniel 2. The outcome is much different however. Like before, he called in all of his wise men but Daniel is absent once again. Knowing how Nebuchadnezzar had reacted before when his dream was unable to be interpreted the wise men are likely to be terrified to be called into the king’s presence. However they do not try any schemes with the king and simply admit that they cannot interpret the dream.
Like before, we don’t know why Daniel was not among the men called in to interpret the dream. We know that Daniel is a high ranking official. It is possible that the king chose not to involve Daniel unless his other officials could not give him the answer that he needed. Another possible explanation is that Nebuchadnezzar is still relying on his gods. He recognized the power of Daniel’s God as was demonstrated in the previous two chapters. But Nebuchadnezzar does not want to submit to Daniel’s God. By calling Daniel in immediately it would be an acknowledgement that Daniel’s God was greater than he and his gods.
A number of Bible translations say that Daniel had the spirit of the holy gods in him but this likely is incorrect. Since this is the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion, this is his testimony of recognizing the Holy Spirit within Daniel. Beyond the proper meaning of the Aramaic word translated as gods, we need to recognize history. Holiness was not a quality that was associated with the gods of pagan worshippers. They were in fact quite unholy according to the beliefs of their followers and thus Nebuchadnezzar wouldn’t be speaking of his gods.
9 I said, “Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you. Here is my dream; interpret it for me. 10 These are the visions I saw while lying in my bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. 11 The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. 12 Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the beasts of the field found shelter, and the birds of the air lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.
13 “In the visions I saw while lying in my bed, I looked, and there before me was a messenger, a holy one, coming down from heaven. 14 He called in a loud voice: ‘Cut down the tree and trim 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 let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field.
“‘Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. 16 Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him.
17 “‘The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men.’
18 “This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, tell me what it means, for none of the wise men in my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.”
Nebuchadnezzar explains his dream to Daniel and acknowledges that he knows that Daniel can interpret his dream. We don’t know how old Nebuchadnezzar is when he has this dream but he has apparently learned a few things from his time around Daniel.
The story of Nebuchadnezzar tells us how God most often works with people. Occasionally a person will come to the Lord like Paul did in an immediate and dramatic conversion as he was blinded on the road to Damascus. More often though God works with a person over a length of time. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a tree is a dream about what it will finally take for him to acknowledge God as his God and not just the powerful God of Daniel.
19 Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.”
Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries! 20 The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, 21 with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the beasts of the field, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds of the air— 22 you, O king, are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth.
23 “You, O king, saw a messenger, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, while its roots remain in the ground. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven; let him live like the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him.’
24 “This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: 25 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes. 26 The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules.
This dream is not as difficult as some of the other dreams that Daniel interprets. It is not a long range prophecy or full of a lot of symbolism. Instead it is a foretelling of what will soon happen to Nebuchadnezzar and exactly why.
Nebuchadnezzar is the magnificent tree. However it has been decreed that he be cut down. It is a decree from heaven. Nebuchadnezzar is to be removed from power for a period of seven years but because the stump remains, he will be restored.
Not only will Nebuchadnezzar be removed from power, he will go mad for a period of seven years. He will live in the wild like an animal.
Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.
Even though the sentence has been pronounced upon Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel recognizes God’s mercy. He pleads with him to repent of his wickedness as he believes that God will not bring the dream to pass if the king does so.
This obviously tells us a lot about God. He will give people chance after chance to come to Him and repent of their sins. But we also know that God’s patience is not infinite. For every person there will be a day of reckoning. No one should live their life with the expectation that they will have another day to repent of their sins. A person who plans to turn to God at the eleventh hour of their life may die at 10:30.
Nebuchadnezzar does not heed Daniel’s advice and does not repent of his wickedness. So the dream is fulfilled.
28 All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”
31 The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. 32 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.”
33 Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like cattle. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.
34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.
His dominion is an eternal dominion;
his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
35 All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: “What have you done?”
36 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
Despite the warning, Nebuchadnezzar is still full of pride. He will not acknowledge that God is the ruler over him. He believes that he is the one who is responsible for all that he has accomplished and that God was not the one who allowed it. This boast triggers the fulfillment of the dream.
The madness that Nebuchadnezzar suffers from is obviously miraculous in nature as it is inflicted upon him in an instant and at the decree of heaven. However, what is described is an actual condition that other people throughout history have suffered from.
The disease that Nebuchadnezzar suffers from is known as lycanthropy from the words lukos meaning wolf and anthropos meaning man. Nebuchadnezzar is a wolfman. This disease is the basis of the legend of werewolves. Other notable men to have been inflicted by this disease are George III of England and Otto of Bavaria.
Historical accounts back up the Biblical story of Nebuchadnezzar’s sudden illness. One account records that Nebuchadnezzar, having reigned forty three years, was suddenly invaded by sickness. Another account says that Nebuchadnezzar, while on the roof of his palace, having completed his military conquests, “was possessed by some god or other.”
Nebuchadnezzar would be abandoned by his people and he would act like an animal for a period of seven years. In almost any other situation someone would use the opportunity to take over Nebuchadnezzar’s throne, assuming that he would never recover to reclaim it. However God supernaturally kept the throne for Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel’s role as prime minister may have been critical in this as he may have run the country in Nebuchadnezzar’s stead.
Just as the dream had predicted however, after seven years Nebuchadnezzar was humbled and praised God. He was restored to power.
No one here will ever be as powerful as Nebuchadnezzar – no one on earth has attained such heights. Nevertheless, God will humble the proud. Even though Nebuchadnezzar goes through the fires or purification to break him of his pride, it is far better than the fires of hell.
God has been working with Nebuchadnezzar for years but it finally takes an incredible event for the king to acknowledge God as ruler of all.
You probably know someone who needs to humble themselves before God. They may be someone who is far from God or someone whom God has been working with for a long time but like Nebuchadnezzar they have never been willing to give themselves completely to the Lord.
Starting this week I want everyone to think of one person in their life that needs to humble themselves before the Lord. Pray that God would have mercy on them and soften their heart through whatever means necessary. Pray for opportunities to share the gospel with this person. Pray for ways to invite this person to church.