Daniel 4
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Nebuchadnezzar makes a proclamation to all peoples of the earth, in which he extols the power and greatness of the God of Israel (Daniel 4:1-3; Daniel 4:34-37). The occasion of the proclamation is explained in Daniel 4:4-33. Nebuchadnezzar had a dream, which the ‘Chaldeans’ were unable to interpret, but which was explained to him by Daniel. It was a symbolical prediction that a great humiliation would overtake the king: for seven years his reason would leave him; he would be deposed from his high estate, and driven to consort with cattle in the open fields, until he should learn that the Most High was the disposer of the kingdoms of the earth (Daniel 4:4-27). At the end of twelve months, as the king was contemplating from his palace the city which he had built, the prediction was suddenly verified, and Nebuchadnezzar was bereft of his reason for seven years (Daniel 4:28-33). At the end of that time he recovered; and as an acknowledgement of God’s power and goodness towards him he issued his present proclamation (Daniel 4:34-37). The actual confession is confined to Daniel 4:2-3; Daniel 4:37 : the rest of the proclamation consisting of a narration of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its fulfilment, which in Daniel 4:19-33 lapses even into the third person.

The chapter, like the preceding ones, has a didactic purpose. The character of the Chaldaean king is idealized: he is represented as the typical despot, proud, self-sufficient, and godless; and an incident of his life, recorded (probably) by tradition, is made the basis of a narrative illustrating the truth, that ‘Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall’ (Proverbs 16:18). In point of fact, Nebuchadnezzar is shewn by his inscriptions to have been an extremely reverent and religious king (Introd., p. xxv f.); and though, no doubt, in the ‘India House Inscription’ he narrates with pride his buildings in Babylon, he both begins and ends with a full acknowledgement of his dependence upon Marduk, and with prayers for the continuance of his blessing. That he did not know the God of Israel was, naturally, a result of the circumstances of his position.

Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you.
1. all the peoples, nations, and languages] Daniel 3:4.

that dwell in all the earth] The hyperbole seems to us extravagant; but it must be remembered that ‘all the earth’ in the O.T. has not the meaning which we attach to the expression, but denotes (substantially) Western Asia, from Elam and Media on the E., to Egypt and the ‘isles of the sea’ (i.e. the E. part of the Mediterranean Sea[235]) on the West, and that the greater part of this did fall within the real or nominal sovereignty of the Assyrian and Babylonian kings (cf. of Nebuchadnezzar himself, Jeremiah 25:26, “all the kingdoms which are upon the face of the earth,” and the preceding enumeration, Daniel 4:17-25; Jeremiah 27:5-6). Standing titles of the Assyrian kings are ‘king of multitudes’ (= of the world), ‘king of the four quarters of the earth’; and the same titles are adopted by Nabu-na’id, the last king of Babylon (KB[236] iii. 2, p. 97). The Persian kings call themselves similarly, ‘the great king, the king of kings, the king of the lands, the king of this great earth’ (RP[237][238] ix. 73 ff.).

[235] Though of course a few places to the W. of this were known, e.g. Tarshish.

[236] B. Eb. Schrader, Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek (transliterations and translations of Assyrian and Babylonian inscriptions), 1889–1900.

[237] P. Records of the Past, first and second series, respectively.

[238] Records of the Past, first and second series, respectively.

Peace be multiplied unto you] so Daniel 6:25 : cf. 1 Peter 1:2; 2 Peter 1:2.

1–3. The Prologue of Nebuchadnezzar’s proclamation.

I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me.
2. I thought it good] better (R.V.) It hath seemed good unto me.

to shew] to declare (Daniel 2:4). ‘Shew’ suggests here, at least to modern readers, a wrong sense.

signs and wonders] similarly in Darius’s decree (Daniel 4:27). Cf. ‘signs and portents,’ Deuteronomy 4:34; Deuteronomy 6:22; Deuteronomy 7:19 al. (where the Targ. of Pseudo-Jon. represents ‘portents’ by the same word ‘wonders,’ which is used here). The meaning is, significant and surprising evidences of power. The phraseology of the proclamation, both in Daniel 4:2-3, and also in Daniel 4:34-35; Daniel 4:37, betrays its Jewish author.

the high God] God Most High (Daniel 3:26).

toward] lit. with, i.e. (in dealing) with: cf. Psalm 86:17 Heb.

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.
3. an everlasting kingdom (מלכות עלם)] cf. Psalm 145:13 (מלכות כל עולמים).

is from, &c.] more exactly, (endureth) with generation and generation (i.e. successive generations): so Daniel 4:34 (Aram. 31). For ‘with,’ cf. also Daniel 7:2, and Psalm 72:5 Heb. The thought of this and the preceding clause, as Daniel 4:34 b, Psalm 145:13 : cf. also Daniel 2:44, Daniel 7:14 b, 18 b.

I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in mine house, and flourishing in my palace:
4. at rest] or at ease, prosperous. The word suggests the idea of contentment and security,—in a good or a bad sense, according to the context (Job 16:12, Psalm 122:6; Job 12:6, Psalm 73:12).

flourishing] The word is applied properly to a tree, and means spreading, luxuriant (Deuteronomy 12:2; 1 Kings 14:23, al.). A.V., R.V., ‘green,’ which is correct only in so far as a luxuriant tree is also commonly a ‘green’ one: it is used figuratively of persons, as here, in Psalm 92:14 (cf. Psalm 52:8).

4–18. Nebuchadnezzar describes his dream, which, as the wise men of Babylon were unable to interpret it, he laid before Daniel.

I saw a dream which made me afraid, and the thoughts upon my bed and the visions of my head troubled me.
5. the thoughts] imaginations (without the art.); cf. R.V. marg. The word is a peculiar one, and is found only here in the O.T. The idea expressed by it is probably that of fancyings, imaginings (in Syr. it means a mirage); in the Targums it is used especially (like the cognate verb) of sinful imaginations, as Isaiah 57:17 (for the Heb. ‘way’), Ezekiel 38:10.

visions of my head] Daniel 2:28.

troubled me] alarmed me: cf. Daniel 4:19, Daniel 5:6; Daniel 5:10, Daniel 7:15; Daniel 7:28; also Daniel 5:9. The corresponding Hebrew word means to perturb or dismay.

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.
6. The ‘wise men’ of Babylon (Daniel 2:12) were summoned before the king, as on the occasion of his previous dream (Daniel 2:2).

Then came in the magicians, the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers: and I told the dream before them; but they did not make known unto me the interpretation thereof.
7. the magicians, the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the determiners (of fates)] see on Daniel 1:21, Daniel 2:2, and Daniel 2:27.

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,
8. at the last] It is difficult to understand how the Aram. can bear this meaning; though no doubt something substantially similar is what is intended. Behrmann renders, ‘And (so it was) till another came in before me, (even) Daniel’; and Bevan (changing a point), ‘And yet another came in before me, (even) Daniel.’

according to the name of my god] viz. Bel. The ‘Bel’ in Belteshazzar is not really the name of the god, but (as explained on Daniel 1:7) is part of the word balâṭsu, ‘his life’; but it may be only an assonance, not an etymology, which the king is represented as expressing,—just as Hebrew writers say, for instance, that Cain or Moses was so called because of the verbs ‘I have gotten,’ ‘I have drawn out,’ although philologically Cain cannot possibly mean ‘gotten,’ or Moses ‘drawn out.’

in whom is the spirit, &c.] imitated, it seems, from Genesis 41:38 (of Joseph), ‘a man in whom the spirit of God is.’ On the sense of ‘spirit’ in the O.T., see on Joel 2:28 (in the Cambridge Bible).

the holy gods] Nebuchadnezzar expresses himself as a polytheist: though in Daniel 4:3; Daniel 4:34-35 he uses language indistinguishable from that of pure monotheism. The same expression occurs in the Phœnician inscription of Eshmunazar, king of Sidon (3–4 cent. b.c.), lines 9 and. 22[239]. On the sense attaching to the term ‘holy’ (which has here hardly any ethical connotation, and means rather what we should express by ‘divine’), see Hastings’ Dict. of the Bible, ii. 395–7; and cf. Sanday-Headlam, Comm. on the Epistle to the Romans, on Daniel 1:7.

[239] Hogarth, Authority and Archæology (1899), p. 137 f.

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.
9. master of the magicians] see Daniel 2:48.

troubleth thee] forceth, constraineth thee, i.e. reduces thee to straits.

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.
10–17. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was of a mighty tree, the head of which towered to heaven, while its branches sheltered, and afforded nutriment for, the beasts and fowl of the earth: as he watched it, he heard the command given that it should be hewn down to the earth, and only its stump left standing. For the imagery, cf. Ezekiel 31:3-10 ff. (where the Assyrian is compared to a magnificent cedar, towering up loftily in Lebanon, but suddenly and ignominiously cut down), esp. Daniel 4:6; and the dream of Xerxes, recorded in Herod. Daniel 7:19, in which the king saw himself crowned with the shoot of an olive-tree, the boughs of which covered the whole earth (τοὺς κλάδους γῆν πᾶσαν ἐπισχεῖν), until suddenly the crown about his head disappeared.

The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth:
11. grew] was grown.

11, 12. The thoughts expressed by the symbolism of the dream are the central and commanding position taken in the world by Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom, its power, splendour, and prosperity, and the protection and support afforded by it, not only to those who strictly belonged to it, but also to all others who sought to enjoy the advantages supplied by it.

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.
12. meat] in the old sense of the word (see on Amos 5:22; and cf. Genesis 1:29-30), food in general, not what we now call ‘meat.’ So Daniel 4:21. The Aram. word occurs in Syr. and the Targums; and twice in the Heb. of the O.T., Genesis 45:23 (A.V. ‘meat,’ R.V. ‘victual’), 2 Chronicles 11:23 (A.V., R.V. ‘victual’).

had shadow … dwelt … was fed of it] Better, were sheltering …, dwelling …, was being fed from it. The tenses of the original denote what was habitual, and therefore might be observed as taking place continuously at the time of the dream. Cf. for the thought Ezekiel 31:6.

I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven;
13. a watcher] i.e. not a guardian, but a wakeful one (Aq., Symm., ἐγρήγορος, Vulg. vigil); so Daniel 4:17; Daniel 4:23. The term denotes an angel,—or, possibly, a particular class of angels,—so called, either as being ever ready to fulfil the Divine behests, or as being ever wakeful for some particular purpose (e.g. praise). It is of frequent occurrence in the Book of Enoch (in the Greek ἐγρήγοροι), where it is applied usually (i. 5, x. 9, 15, xii. 4, xiii. 10, xiv. 1, 3, xv. 2, xvi. 1, 2, xci. 15) to the fallen angels, but it is also (xii. 3, and perhaps xii. 2) used of the holy angels, though it is not perfectly clear (see the note in Dillmann’s edition, p. 104 f.) whether it denotes them generally, or whether it is the name of a particular class (cf. Charles on i. 5, xxxix. 12): the use of the synonyms ‘the holy angels who watch’ in xx. 1 (in the Ethiopic, but not in the Greek text[240]) of six archangels, and ‘those who sleep not’ in xxxix. 12, 13, xl. 2, lxi. 12, lxxi. 7, of certain exalted angels who incessantly hymn the Almighty, and guard His throne, does not entirely remove the uncertainty. The same word which is used here is also often used of angels in Syriac; see Payne Smit[241] Thes. Syr. col. 2843–4.

[240] See p. 356 in Charles’ edition (Oxford, 1893).

[241] yne Smith R. Payne Smith, Thesaurus Syriacus.

and a holy one] another term denoting an angel: in the O.T., Job 5:1; Job 15:15, Psalm 89:5; Psalm 89:7, Zechariah 14:5, Daniel 8:13 [A.V. ‘saint’ in these passages: see the note on Daniel 8:13]; and repeatedly in the Book of Enoch, i. 9 (whence Judges 14), xii. 2, xiv. 23, xxxix. 5, &c. (see Charles’ note on i. 9).

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 the fowls from his branches:
14. The strength and magnificence of the great tree are all to be stripped from it.

aloud] lit. with might, as Daniel 3:4.

Hew down &c.] who are addressed, is not stated: as in other similar cases (Isaiah 13:2; Isaiah 40:3; Isaiah 57:14, Jeremiah 4:5, &c.), those whose duty it would naturally be to fulfil such a command are intended.

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:
15. The destruction of the tree, however, is not to be total: a stump is to be left, which may ultimately grow again.

even in a band of iron and brass] Unless it might be supposed that it was customary, for any purpose, to place a metal band round the stump of a tree which had been cut down, the figure, it seems, must be here abandoned. Whether, however, that be the case or not, the reference, as the interpretation shews, is to something which Nebuchadnezzar would experience during his madness,—probably, either (Keil) the loss of mental freedom, or (Prince) the physical restraint and confinement to which he would naturally have then to submit.

in the tender grass of the field] There would be nothing remarkable in a tree being surrounded by grass; the tree, it is evident, must symbolize something for which such a position would be unnatural. What that is appears more distinctly in the sequel.

let his portion be, &c.] Let him share with them in the herbage of the earth.

herbage] the word used is a wider one than either ‘grass’ or ‘tender (i.e. young) grass,’ and includes vegetables and small shrubs (Genesis 1:11-12).

Let his heart be changed from man's, and let a beast's heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him.
16. his heart] i.e. his intelligence: let him receive the understanding of a beast (imagine himself an animal). The heart, in Hebrew psychology, is the seat not (as commonly with us) of tender feeling (a ‘heartless’ man), but of the intellect: cf. Hosea 7:11, ‘a silly dove, without heart,’ i.e. without understanding, Jeremiah 5:21, ‘a foolish people, without understanding,’ lit. without heart.

seven times] i.e. seven years: cf. Daniel 7:25, Daniel 12:7 (Heb. mô‘çd); Revelation 12:14 (καιρός). With ‘pass over,’ comp. 1 Chronicles 29:30.

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.
17. This matter] either The word (i.e. The sentence, R.V., as Ecclesiastes 8:11 [cf. Esther 1:20, the decree, for the same word in Hebrew]), or (in a weakened sense), The thing (cf. Daniel 3:16 ‘in this matter’), i.e. what has just been described.

by the decree &c.] implying that it is unalterably fixed.

of the watchers, &c.] in Daniel 4:24 the king’s doom is said to be ‘by the decree of the Most High.’ God is represented in the O.T. as surrounded by an assembly of angels (1 Kings 22:19), who form almost a kind of heavenly council, Job 1:6; Job 2:1; Job 15:8 (R.V. marg.), Jeremiah 23:18, Psalm 89:7; and it seems that in Dan. the decree is regarded as possessing the joint authority of God and of His council. By the later Jews this assembly of angels was called God’s ‘court of judgement’ (בית דין), or His ‘family’ (פמליא); and He was represented as taking counsel with it, or communicating to it His purposes (so Genesis 1:26 in the Targ. of Ps.-Jon.). In Sanh. 38 b it is said, “The Holy One, blessed be He! does nothing without first consulting the family above, as it is said (Daniel 4:17), ‘By the decree of the watchers,’ &c.” See further Weber, System der Altsynag. Theol. p. 170 f.

the demand] probably the matter (R.V. marg.). The Aram. means either a request (1 Kings 2:16, Heb. and Targ., Luke 23:24, Pesh. for αἴτημα), or a question, subject of discussion or dispute (Jeremiah 12:1, Targ.); and is hence generally supposed to have here the weakened sense of the matter. (‘Demand’ must be understood in a sense analogous to that expressed by the verb in Daniel 2:27 (see the note); there is no warrant for giving the Aram. word the sense of authoritative request.)

to the intent &c.] the humiliation of the mighty king is to teach all who witness it that God is supreme over the kingdoms of the world.

the basest] i.e. the lowest (R.V.),—viz. in rank and position, not in character. ‘Base’ in Old English meant ‘low, humble, not necessarily worthless or wicked,’ (Wright, Bible Word-Book, s.v.). Polydore Vergil i. 70 (cited ib.), ‘which the baser sorte [i.e. common people] doe sometime superstitiouslye note as signs and wonders.’ In 1 Corinthians 1:28 the ‘base things of the world’ (τὰ ἀγενῆ τοῦ κόσμου) means merely ‘things of no account’; and in 2 Corinthians 10:1 St Paul in calling himself (A.V.) ‘base among you,’ of course really only means to say that he is ‘lowly’ (R.V.). Cf. Ezekiel 17:14; Ezekiel 29:14-15. The same word which is used in the Aram. here is used also (in its Heb. form) in Job 5:11, ‘to set up on high those that be low;’ Psalm 138:6, ‘yet hath he respect unto the lowly,’ and Isaiah 57:15 (‘humble’).

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.
18. Nebuchadnezzar closes his description of his dream by appealing to Daniel to interpret it.

for the spirit &c.] See Daniel 4:8.

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.
19. was astonied] better, was stupefied or appalled, viz. as the meaning of the dream flashed across him. The root-idea of the word (שמם) seems to have been to be motionless,—sometimes (cf. on Daniel 8:13) in the stillness of desolation, sometimes, as here, through amazement (so Daniel 8:27). It is not the word used in Daniel 3:24.

about one hour] In view of what was said on Daniel 3:6, however, it is doubted by many whether shâ‘âh is meant here to denote exactly what we call an ‘hour’; and they render accordingly for a moment. Cf. Exodus 33:5, where nearly the same expression (שעה חדא) stands in the Targ. for the Heb. רגע אחד i.e. ‘for a moment.’

his thoughts alarmed (Daniel 4:5) him] he dreaded, viz., to foretell to the king his own disasters. The same phrase, Daniel 5:6; Daniel 5:10, Daniel 7:28. The king, however, observing his confusion, and perceiving from it that he has found the interpretation of the dream, proceeds to reassure him.

19–27. Daniel’s interpretation of the dream.

The tree that thou sawest, which grew, and was strong, whose height reached unto the heaven, and the sight thereof to all the earth;
20–21. The description repeated from Daniel 4:11-12.

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:
21. meat] food, as Daniel 4:12.

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.
22. The tree represented Nebuchadnezzar himself, in the pride and greatness of his empire.

to the end of the earth] Comp. what was said on Daniel 4:1.

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;
23. Abbreviated from Daniel 4:13-16.

This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the most High, which is come upon my lord the king:
24. and it is the decree of the most High, &c.] cf. Daniel 4:17 a.

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.
25. The sense of vv.15, 16, 17 b explained more distinctly: Nebuchadnezzar, imagining himself to be an animal, will act himself, and be treated by others, accordingly.

that they shall drive thee … and they shall make thee to eat … and they shall wet thee] R.V. that thou shalt be drivenand thou shalt be made to eat … and shalt be wet. In Aramaic, the 3rd pers. plur. with indef. subject is often used where we should employ the passive, even though the agent implicitly referred to is God, see e.g. Daniel 2:30 (lit. ‘that they should make known’), Daniel 3:4 (lit. ‘they command’), Daniel 4:16 (lit. ‘let them change … let them give’), 31 (lit. ‘they speak’),—in all which passages A.V. itself paraphrases by the passive. The same usage occurs sometimes in Biblical Hebrew (see on Daniel 1:12); and it is frequent in the later language, as Abhoth, iv. 7 (cited on Daniel 4:26)[242]. Cf. Matthew 5:15; Luke 6:38; Luke 6:44; Luke 12:20 (ἀπαιτοῦσιν); Revelation 12:6 τρέφωσιν (Daniel 4:14 τρέφεται).

[242] See further examples in Dalman, Die Worte Jesu (1898), p. 184.

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.
26. they commanded] viz. the watchers (cf. Daniel 4:17). Or, in accordance with the principle just explained, it was commanded.

sure] i.e. confirmed, secure: cf. Daniel 6:26 (‘stedfast’). The object of the humiliation was (Daniel 4:25 b) to teach the king that his power was not his own, but delegated to him by God, the supreme ruler of the world; provision was therefore made that when he had learnt this lesson his kingdom should be restored to him (cf. Daniel 4:32 b).

that the heavens do rule] The use of ‘heaven,’ either as a metonym, or as an expression of reverence, for God, does not occur elsewhere in the O.T.; but it is found in the Apocrypha, as 1Ma 3:18, R.V. [contrast 1 Samuel 14:6], 19 (cf. 1Ma 4:60), 1Ma 4:10; 1Ma 4:24; 1Ma 4:55, 2Ma 9:20; and it is especially frequent in the Mishna, as Abhoth, i. 3, ‘and let the fear of Heaven be upon you’; ii. 16, ‘let all thy deeds be in the name of Heaven’; iv. 7, ‘whoso profaneth the name of Heaven in secret, they punish him (i.e. he is punished) openly.’ Cf. Luke 15:18; Luke 15:21[243].

[243] See further examples in Dalman, l.c., pp. 178–180; and cf. Schürer2, ii. 454.

In connexion with the phrase here employed, it may be remarked that the original Jewish sense of the expression, ‘kingdom of heaven,’ is the rule, or government, of heaven[244].

[244] Dalman, pp. 75–77.

Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity.
27. Daniel closes with a piece of practical advice addressed to the king.

break off] R.V. marg. ‘Or, redeem’; LXX., Theod., λύτρωσαι. The word (p‘raḳ,) meaning properly to tear away, is common in Aram. (both Targums and Syriac) in the derived sense of tearing away from servitude, death, or danger, i.e. of redeeming (e.g. Leviticus 25:25, 2 Samuel 4:9); and occurs twice in that sense in Heb. (Lamentations 5:8, Psalm 136:24); but though sins might of course be ‘atoned for,’ or ‘expiated,’ it is doubtful whether they could be spoken of as ‘redeemed’: and hence no doubt the word is used here in its more original sense of break off (cf. in Heb. Genesis 27:40 of a yoke, Exodus 32:23-24), i.e. make a complete end of, cast absolutely away.

by righteousness] i.e. by righteous conduct: cf. Proverbs 5:2, ‘righteousness delivereth from death’; Proverbs 16:6, ‘by kindness and truth iniquity is cancelled.’ ‘Righteousness’ (צדקה) acquired, however, in late (post-Bibl.) Hebrew, as also in Aramaic (Targums, Talmud, Syriac), the special sense of alms or almsgiving: for instance Abhoth, Daniel 4:13 (Taylor 19), ‘those who give ẓedâḳâh (i.e. alms)’; Jerus. Taanith, ii. 65 b, ‘three things neutralize an evil fate, prayer, righteousness (almsgiving), and repentance.’ Cf. Matthew 6:1, where ‘righteousness’ (R.V.) is the true reading, and ‘alms’ (A.V.) the (correct) explanation, which has found its way into the textus receptus. In accordance with this usage, LXX. and Theod. (ἐλεημοσύναις), Pesh., Vulg., express the same sense here; but, in view of the context, the limitation of ‘righteousness’ to such a special virtue cannot be said to be probable[245]. On the contrary, ‘righteousness’ in its widest sense, especially towards subjects and dependents, is in the O.T. one of the primary virtues of a ruler (2 Samuel 8:15; Jeremiah 22:15, &c.), which Nebuchadnezzar, as the ideal despot, is naturally pictured as deficient in.

[245] LXX also render ṣedäḳâh by ‘alms’ in Deuteronomy 6:25; Deuteronomy 24:13; Psalm 24:5; Psalm 33:5; Psalm 103:6; Isaiah 1:27; Isaiah 28:17; Isaiah 59:16; Daniel 9:16; and ‘alms delivereth from death’ in Tob 4:10; Tob 12:9, seems based upon Proverbs 10:2, similarly interpreted.

by shewing mercy to the poor] cf. Proverbs 14:21, where the same two words occur in their Hebrew form.

if haply there may be lengthening (Daniel 7:12 Aram.) of thy prosperity] the last word being the subst. corresponding to the adj. rendered at case or prosperous in Daniel 4:4. A.V. marg., and R.V. marg., ‘an healing of thy error’ (so Ewald), implies changes of punctuation in the two substantives: ’arûkhâh, ‘healing,’ Isaiah 58:8 al. (lit. fresh flesh over a wound), for ’arkhâh, and shâlûthâkh, ‘thy error’ (Daniel 3:29, Daniel 6:4) for shelçwethâkh. Theod. (ἴσως ἔσται μακρόθυμος τοῖς παραπτώμασίν σου ὁ θεός), Vulg., Pesh., also, presuppose the same reading of the last word (though their renderings of the first word are inadmissible).

All this came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar.
28–33. The fulfilment of the dream.

At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon.
29. he was walking upon the royal palace of Babylon] ‘upon’ means on the roof of: cf. 2 Samuel 11:2.

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 honour of my majesty?
30. spake] answered (Daniel 2:20).

great Babylon] Revelation 16:19 (in a figurative sense); cf. Jeremiah 51:58.

I] The pronoun is emphatic.

for the house of the kingdom] for a royal dwelling-place (or residence).

honour] glory (as Daniel 2:37).

The ‘India House Inscription’ of Nebuchadnezzar is a fine commentary on the words here put into the mouth of the great king: see the abstract of it given in the Introduction, p. xxiv f.

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.
31. The divine rebuke alights immediately upon the king.

there fell a voice from heaven] such as was called by the later Jews a Bath Ḳôl, lit. ‘the daughter of a voice’ (the accompanying verb being usually ‘came forth’), the term applied by them to a divine voice unaccompanied by any visible manifestation. Cf. Apoc. of Baruch, xiii. 1, ‘a voice came from heaven,’ xxii. 1; and see further Weber, System der Altsynag. Theol. p. 187 f., Dalman, Die Worte Jesu, p. 167 f., Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus, i. 286, and the particulars given in Hamburger’s Real-Encyclop. für Bibel u. Talmud, vol. ii., s. v. Bathkol. The voices from heaven in the N.T. (as Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5; John 12:28; Acts 11:7; Acts 11:9; Revelation 10:4) would all, in Jewish phraseology, be so described.

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.
32. And thou shalt be driven … shalt be made to eat grass as oxen] The passives, as Daniel 4:25,—with which, indeed, except that one clause is omitted, the present verse agrees almost verbally.

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 eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws.
33. The same hour] Daniel 3:6.

the thing] or, the word, i.e. the announcement of Daniel 4:31-32.

did eat … was wet] The tenses express what was habitual (cf. Daniel 4:12).

till his hairs were grown, &c.] The delusion under which he was suffering leading him naturally to neglect his person.

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 honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation:
34. the days] i.e. the seven ‘times’ of Daniel 4:16; Daniel 4:23; Daniel 4:25; Daniel 4:32.

lift up mine eyes unto heaven] The mute, half-unconscious acknowledgement of the God who rules in heaven, was followed by the return of the king’s human consciousness.

and I blessed, &c.] The king gave open and conscious expression to his gratitude, acknowledging and glorifying the power of the Most High.

him that liveth for ever] So Daniel 12:7; cf. Daniel 6:26.

and his kingdom (endureth) with generation and generation] Daniel 4:3.

34–37. At the end of the appointed time, Nebuchadnezzar’s reason returned to him: he owned the sovereignty of the Most High, and was restored to his kingdom; and now, in thankful acknowledgement of His power, he issues his present proclamation.

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?
35. are reputed as nothing] better, are as persons of no account (Bevan). The expression is in part, no doubt, suggested by Isaiah 40:17 (where the verb rendered ‘counted’ is the same as that which in the partic. is here rendered ‘reputed’).

and he doeth &c.] He rules alike in heaven and earth.

the army of heaven] The Aram. equivalent (representing it also in the Targums) for the Heb. ‘host of heaven’—an expression which denotes sometimes the angels (1 Kings 22:19; Nehemiah 9:6 b), sometimes the stars (Deuteronomy 4:19, Jeremiah 33:22, al.; cf. Nehemiah 9:6 a)[246]. Here angelic beings, as opposed to the ‘inhabitants of the earth,’ are doubtless meant: cf., for the general thought, Psalm 103:20.

[246] See the art. Host of Heaven in Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible.

stay his hand] strike his hand, viz. for the purpose of arresting it. The same idiom occurs in the Targ. of Ecclesiastes 8:4 b (perhaps borrowed from here); it occurs also in the Talm. more than once, in the sense of to forbid, and (with another word for strike) in Arabic as well. See Ges. Thes. p. 782; Levy, NHWB[247] iii. 72.

[247] HWB. M. Levy, Neuhebräisches und Chaldäisches Wörterbuch, 1876–89.

or say unto him, What hast thou done?] Cf. Isaiah 45:9; Job 9:12; Ecclesiastes 8:4 b.

At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me; and my counsellers and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me.
36. reason] The word is the same as that which in Daniel 4:34 is rendered understanding.

mine honour] my majesty (R.V.), as the word is rendered in A.V. in Daniel 4:30. In Heb. the word is regularly used of the majesty of a king (or of God), as Psalm 21:5; Psalm 29:4; Psalm 45:3-4.

and my splendour] i.e. my royal state (cf. Psalm 21:6 Pesh. [for Heb. הדר], 1 Chronicles 29:25 Pesh. and Targ. [for Heb. הוד]); though others, comparing Daniel 5:6; Daniel 5:9-10, Daniel 7:28, think the recovered brightness of the countenance to be meant. The ‘glory’ of Nebuchadnezzar’s ‘kingdom’ had been impaired by his absence: it was restored when he reappeared in his usual place and resumed his former royal state.

my ministers (Daniel 3:24; Daniel 3:27) and my lords sought unto me] They welcomed him back, and again consulted him on affairs of state.

excellent majesty] surpassing greatness. See on Daniel 2:31; and, for ‘greatness,’ cf. Daniel 4:22, Daniel 7:27 (A.V. in both greatness), Daniel 5:18-19 (R.V. in both greatness).

Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.
37. Nebuchadnezzar’s final doxology.

extol] or exalt: Psalm 30:1; Psalm 118:28; Psalm 145:1, &c.

truth … judgement] cf. Psalm 111:7.

and those that walk in pride, &c.] Cf. Ezekiel 17:24; Psalm 18:27; Psalm 75:7; also Proverbs 16:18. Nebuchadnezzar recognizes that the humiliation which he has experienced is a punishment for his pride.

“The Bible always represents to us that pride and arrogant self-confidence are an offence against God. The doom fell on Nebuchadnezzar while the haughty boast was still in the king’s mouth. The suddenness of the nemesis of pride is closely paralleled by the scene in the Acts of the Apostles in which Herod Agrippa I. is represented as entering the theatre to receive the deputies of Tyre and Sidon”; and, in spite of the ominous warning, which according to the story in Josephus he had received just before, as accepting the blasphemous adulation of the multitude, and as being stricken immediately by a mortal illness (Acts 20:20-23; Jos. Ant. xiv. viii. 2). “And something like this we see again and again in what the late Bishop Thirlwall called the ‘irony of history’—the cases in which men seem to have been elevated to the very summit of power only to heighten the dreadful precipice over which they immediately fell. He mentions the cases of Persia, which was on the verge of ruin when with lordly arrogance she dictated the peace of Antalcidas; of Boniface VIII., in the Jubilee of 1300, immediately preceding his deadly overthrow; and of Spain, under Philip II., struck down by the ruin of the Armada at the zenith of her wealth and pride. He might have added the instances of Ahab, Sennacherib [cf. Isaiah 10:12-19; Isaiah 10:33-34], Nebuchadnezzar, and Herod Antipas, of Alexander the Great, and of Napoleon” (Farrar, p. 198 f.).

Additional Note on Nebuchadnezzar’s madness

The malady from which Nebuchadnezzar is represented as suffering agrees, as Dr Pusey has pointed out (p. 425 ff.), “with the description of a rare sort of disease, called Lycanthropy, from one form of it, of which our earliest notice is in a Greek medical writer of the 4th cent. a.d., in which the sufferer retains his consciousness in other respects, but imagines himself to be changed into some animal, and acts, up to a certain point, in conformity with that persuasion.” Persons thus afflicted imagine themselves for instance to be dogs, wolves, lions, cats, cocks, or other animals, and cry or otherwise behave themselves in the manner of these animals. Marcellus (4 cent. a.d.) says, “They who are seized by the kynanthropic or lykanthropic disease, in the month of February go forth by night, imitating in all things wolves or dogs, and until day especially live near tombs.” Galen mentions the case of one who crowed, and flapped his arms, imagining himself to be a cock; and many similar cases are on record in modern times. Dr Pusey states that he found no notice of the exact form of the disease with which Nebuchadnezzar was afflicted (which would be Boanthropy); but there seems to be no intrinsic reason why an ox should not be the animal whose nature was thus assumed. A man who imagined himself to be an ox might naturally enough eat grass like an ox; but a perverted appetite, including, in particular, a desire to devour grass, leaves, twigs, &c., is also an independent characteristic of many forms of insanity. At the same time, persons suffering in these ways are often not entirely, or continuously, bereft of their reason; they are at times aware that they are not what they imagine themselves to be; and frequently (as visitors to lunatic asylums sometimes notice) make on many subjects acute and sensible remarks; so that there is no difficulty in supposing that Nebuchadnezzar could, as seems to be represented in Daniel 4:34, have recognized God in prayer even before his reason had wholly returned to him. Dr Pusey refers at some length to the case of Père Surin, who, in exorcising others, fell for many years into a strange malady, in which he believed himself to be possessed, and acted outwardly in the manner of a maniac, and yet remained fully conscious of religious verities, and was inwardly in perfect peace and communion with God.

If therefore it were clear that the narrative in Daniel was the work of a contemporary hand, there does not seem to be any sufficient reason why the account of Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity should not be accepted as historical: it is supported by physiological analogies; and the objections that it is not mentioned by other ancient writers, and that his empire would not have been preserved to him during such a long illness, are hardly of a nature to be conclusive; our records of his reign are imperfect[248], and an arrangement may have been made by which the chief courtiers continued to rule in the king’s name,—as in the similar cases of Charles VI. of France, Christian VII. of Denmark, George III. of England, and Otho of Bavaria, referred to by Dr Farrar (p. 201).

[248] The statement of Berosus (ap. Jos. c. Ap. i. 20) that ‘falling into a sickness (ἐμπεσὼν εἰς ἀρρωστίαν), he ended his life,’ is too vague to be regarded as confirmatory of the narrative in Daniel: Berosus uses almost the same expression (ἀρρωστήσας) in speaking (ib. i. 19) of the death of Nabopolassar; besides, it is implied that from this sickness Nebuchadnezzar did not recover.

The question assumes, however, a different complexion, if it be true that the book is a work of the Maccabæan age. We then have no contemporary evidence for the fact; and it becomes an open question, whether it is more than a popular tradition which the writer has followed, and which he has adopted for the purpose of teaching one of the great lessons of his book. Some support is given to this opinion by the curious, though imperfect, parallel quoted by Eusebius (Praep. Evang. ix. 41) from the Assyrian history of Abydenus (prob. 2 cent. a.d.):—“Megasthenes says that Nebuchadnezzar became stronger than Herakles, and made wars upon Libya and Iberia, and having conquered these countries settled a part of their inhabitants on the right of Pontus. After this, it is said by the Chaldæans, he ascended the roof of his palace, and being possessed by some god or other, cried aloud: ‘O Babylonians, I, Nebuchadnezzar, announce to you beforehand the coming misfortune, which Bel my ancestor and the Queen Beltis are alike powerless to persuade the Fates to avert. A Persian mule [i.e. Cyrus] will come, having your own deities as his allies[249], and will bring slavery. He who will help him in this undertaking will be Mçdçs[250], the boast of Assyria[251]. Would that, before my citizens were betrayed, some Charybdis or sea might receive him, and utterly extinguish him! or else that, betaking himself elsewhere, he might be driven through the desert, where is no city nor track of man, where wild beasts have their pasture, and birds do roam, and that among rocks and ravines he might wander alone! and that I, before he imagined this, might meet with some happier end!’ Having uttered this prophecy, he forthwith disappeared; and Evilmaluruchus [Evil-merodach], his son, succeeded him on the throne.”

[249] Cyrus, in his ‘Cylinder-Inscription,’ represents himself as led into Babylon by Merodach, the supreme god of Babylon (cf. the Introd. p. xxxi. bottom).

[250] Schrader, following a conjecture of von Gutschmid’s, reads ‘the son of a Median woman,’ i.e. Nabu-na’id, who certainly made himself unpopular by his neglect of the gods of Babylon, and may well have been regarded as in great measure responsible for its capture by Cyrus.

[251] Used in the sense of Babylonia.

Megasthenes was a contemporary of Seleucus Nicator (b.c. 312–280); but the statements about Nebuchadnezzar’s prophecy are made on the authority of the ‘Chaldaeans.’ Prof. Be van, following Prof. Schrader[252], points out well the historical significance of the passage, and its bearing on the Biblical narrative. “Obscure as the passage is in some of its details, one part may be regarded as certain, viz. that we have here a popular legend of Babylonian origin, coloured of course by the Greek medium through which it has passed. The prophecy put into the mouth of Nebuchadnezzar evidently refers to the overthrow of the Babylonian empire by Cyrus, the ‘mule.’ … The resemblances between the narrative in Daniel and the Babylonian legend can hardly be accidental”: in both the king is on the roof of the palace; in the one case a prophetic voice declares to him that he will be driven from men, and have his abode with the beasts of the field, in the other he invokes a similar fate upon his nation’s foe. “But to suppose that either narrative has been directly borrowed from the other is impossible. It would appear that of the two, that in Abydenus is on the whole the more primitive. Its local character,”—notice, for instance, the interest evinced by it in the history of Babylon,—“is strongly marked; and it shews no signs of having been deliberately altered to serve a didactic purpose. In Daniel, on the other hand, we find a narrative which contains scarcely anything specifically Babylonian, but which is obviously intended to teach a moral lesson. It is therefore probable that some Babylonian legend on the subject of Nebuchadnezzar had, perhaps in a very distorted form, reached the ears of the author of Daniel, who adapted the story in order to make it a vehicle of religious instruction.”

[252] In his Essay on ‘Nebuchadnezzar’s Madness’ in the Jahrbücher für Protest. Theol., 1881, p. 618 ff.

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