Daniel 4:17
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.
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(17) By the decreei.e., the message to the king rests on this decree or sentence, and it is ascribed to the “watcher,” because to him pertained the execution of the decree.

The demand.—Comp. Isaiah 44:26. According to the use of the word in Chaldee elsewhere, this can be the only true meaning. The “holy one” makes this request of God, and the carrying out of His decree pertains to the “watcher.” “This,” says Dr. Pusey, “gives another glimpse into the interest of the holy angels in ourselves. They, too, longed that oppression should cease, and joining in the cry which for ever is going up from the oppressed to the throne of mercy and judgment, prayed for that chastisement which was to relieve the oppressed and convert the oppressor” (Lectures on Daniel, p. 525).

Ruleth . . .—i.e., Almighty God disposes of human empires as He pleases. (Comp. Daniel 5:21.)

Daniel 4:17-18. This matter is by the decree of the watchers, &c., to the intent that the living may know, &c. — The intent of the matter was to give mankind a proof, in the fall and restoration of this mighty monarch, that the fortunes of kings and empires are in the hand of God; that his providence perpetually interposes in the affairs of men, and that he distributes crowns and sceptres according to his will, but always for the good of the faithful primarily, and ultimately of his whole creation. And setteth over it the basest of men — If this be applied to Nebuchadnezzar, it must be understood, either with respect to his present condition, whose pride and cruelty rendered him as despicable in the sight of God as his high estate made him appear honourable in the eyes of men; and, therefore, was justly doomed to so low a degree of abasement: or else it may be interpreted of his wonderful restoration and advancement after he had been degraded from his dignity.

4:1-18 The beginning and end of this chapter lead us to hope, that Nebuchadnezzar was a monument of the power of Divine grace, and of the riches of Divine mercy. After he was recovered from his madness, he told to distant places, and wrote down for future ages, how God had justly humbled and graciously restored him. When a sinner comes to himself, he will promote the welfare of others, by making known the wondrous mercy of God. Nebuchadnezzar, before he related the Divine judgments upon him for his pride, told the warnings he had in a dream or vision. The meaning was explained to him. The person signified, was to be put down from honour, and to be deprived of the use of his reason seven years. This is surely the sorest of all temporal judgments. Whatever outward affliction God is pleased to lay upon us, we have cause to bear it patiently, and to be thankful that he continues the use of our reason, and the peace of our consciences. Yet if the Lord should see fit by such means to keep a sinner from multiplying crimes, or a believer from dishonouring his name, even the dreadful prevention would be far preferable to the evil conduct. God has determined it, as a righteous Judge, and the angels in heaven applaud. Not that the great God needs the counsel or concurrence of the angels, but it denotes the solemnity of this sentence. The demand is by the word of the holy ones, God's suffering people: when the oppressed cry to God, he will hear. Let us diligently seek blessings which can never be taken from us, and especially beware of pride and forgetfulness of God.This matter is by the decree of the watchers - See the notes at Daniel 4:13. They are described here not only as watching over the affairs of men, but as entrusted wth the execution of high and important designs of God. The representation is, that one of these heavenly beings was seen by Nebuchadnezzar in his visions, and that this one stated to him that he had come to execute what had been determined on by his associates, or in counsel with others. The idea would seem to be, that the affairs of the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar had been in important respects placed under the administration of these beings, and that in solemn council they had resolved on this measure. It is not said that this was not in accordance with, and under the direction of, a higher power - that of God; and that is rather implied when it is said that the great design of this was to show to the living that "the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men." In itself considered, there is no improbability in supposing that the affairs of this lower world are in some respects placed under the administration of beings superior to man, nor that events may occur as the result of their deliberation, or, as it is here expressed, by their "decree." If, in any respect, the affairs of the world are subject to their jurisdiction, there is every reason to suppose that there would be harmony of counsel and of action, and an event of this kind might be so represented.

And the demand - Or, the matter; the affair; the business. The Chaldee word properly means a question, a petition; then a subject of inquiry, a matter of business. Here it means, that this matter, or this business, was in accordance with the direction of the holy ones.

The holy ones - Synonymous with the watchers, and referring to the same. See the note at Daniel 4:13.

To the intent that the living may know - With the design that those who live on the earth may understand this. That is, the design was to furnish a proof of this, so impressive and striking, that it could not be doubted by any. No more effectual way of doing this could occur than by showing the absolute power of the Most High over such a monarch as Nebuchadnezzar.

That the Most High - He who is exalted above all men; all angels; all that pretend to be gods. The phrase here is designed to refer to the true God, and the object was to show that he was the most exalted of all beings, and had absolute control over all.

Ruleth in the kingdom of men - Whoever reigns, he reigns over them.

And giveth it to whomsoever he will - That is, he gives dominion over men to whomsoever he chooses. It is not by human ordering, or by arrangements among men. It is not by hereditary right; not by succession; not by conquest; not by usurpation; not by election, that this matter is finally determined; it is by the decree and purpose of God. He can remove the hereditary prince by death; he can cause him to be set aside by granting success to a usurper; he can dispose of a crown by conquest; he can cut off the conqueror by death, and transfer the crown to an inferior officer; he can remove one who was the united choice of a people by death, and put another in his place. So the apostle Paul says, "There is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God" Romans 13:1.

And setteth up over it the basest of men - That is, he appoints over the kingdom of men, at his pleasure, those who are of the humblest or lowest rank. The allusion here is not to Nebuchadnezzar as if he were the "basest" or the "vilest" of men, but the statement is a general truth, that God, at his pleasure, sets aside those of exalted rank, and elevates those of the lowest rank in their place. There is an idea now attached commonly to the word "basest," which the word used here by no means conveys. It does not denote the mean, the vile, the worthless, the illiberal, but those of humble or lowly rank. This is the proper meaning of the Chaldee word שׁפל shephal - and so it is rendered in the Vulgate, humillimum hominem. The Greek of Theodotion, however, is, "what is disesteemed among men" - ἐξουδένωμα ἀνθρώπῶν exoudenōma anthrōpōn. In the latter part of the dream Daniel 4:15-16 we have an illustration of what often occurs in dreams - their singular incongruity. In the early part of the dream, the vision is that of a tree, and the idea is consistently carried out for a considerable part of it - the height of the tree, the branches, the leaves, the fruit, the shade, the stump; then suddenly there is a "change" to something that is living and human - the change of the "heart" to that of a beast; the being exposed to the dew of heaven; the portion with the beasts of the earth, etc. Such changes and incongruities, as every one knows, are common in dreams. So Shakespeare -

"True, I talk of dreams,

Which are the children of an idle brain,

Begot of nothing but vain fantasy;

Which is as thin of substance as the air,

And more inconstant than the wind, who woos

Even now the frozen bosom of the North,


17. demand—that is, determination; namely, as to the change to which Nebuchadnezzar is to be doomed. A solemn council of the heavenly ones is supposed (compare Job 1:6; 2:1), over which God presides supreme. His "decree" and "word" are therefore said to be theirs (compare Da 4:24, "decree of the Most High"); "the decree of the watchers," "the word of the holy ones." For He has placed particular kingdoms under the administration of angelic beings, subject to Him (Da 10:13, 20; 12:1). The word "demand," in the second clause, expresses a distinct idea from the first clause. Not only as members of God's council (Da 7:10; 1Ki 22:19; Ps 103:21; Zec 1:10) do they subscribe to His "decree," but that decree is in answer to their prayers, wherein they demand that every mortal who tries to obscure the glory of God shall be humbled [Calvin]. Angels are grieved when God's prerogative is in the least infringed. How awful to Nebuchadnezzar to know that angels plead against him for his pride, and that the decree has been passed in the high court of heaven for his humiliation in answer to angels' demands! The conceptions are moulded in a form peculiarly adapted to Nebuchadnezzar's modes of thought.

the living—not as distinguished from the dead, but from the inhabitants of heaven, who "know" that which the men of the world need to the taught (Ps 9:16); the ungodly confess there is a God, but would gladly confine Him to heaven. But, saith Daniel, God ruleth not merely there, but "in the kingdom of men."

basest—the lowest in condition (1Sa 2:8; Lu 1:52). It is not one's talents, excellency, or noble birth, but God's will, which elevates to the throne. Nebuchadnezzar abased to the dunghill, and then restored, was to have in himself an experimental proof of this (Da 4:37).

The decree was God’s, and the demand was of the holy angels; if God would enact and ratify it, the angels as commissioners had the dispensation of it put into their hands, and they all consent to it as a just judgment of God, to be executed by them according to the will and pleasure of God; and they desire of God it may be done, alluding to the customs of some nations, and speaking after the manner, for the holy angels are zealous for God’s honour, and pray him to assert his own sovereignty against the bold encroachments of mortal men, especially rampant and savage tyrants, to make them know themselves.

Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men: this Nebuchadnezzar and his flatterers conceited he was god in earth, independent and unaccountable to any; and though he had notions of a supreme God, yet he confined his government to heaven. Jupiter in heaven, Caesar in earth, rules all, said the heathen poet. But the great God will make all men know he rules all in earth too, and sets up at his pleasure whom he will, and plucks them down again. All power is of God, Romans 13:1, who doth often make use of his power in this case, thereby declaring he only is arbitrary and absolute; for instance, he gives this dignity sometimes to the basest of men, as he took it from Saul and gave it David, a poor shepherd’s boy, Psalm 78:70,71, and made him a name among the great men of the earth, 1 Samuel 2:7,8 1 Chronicles 17:7,8.

This matter is by the decree of the watchers,.... That is, the cutting down the tree, and what is signified by it, was with the advice, consent, and approbation of the watchers, by whom is generally understood angels; not that they were the authors of this decree, but approvers of it; and were ready, not only to subscribe it, but to execute it; it being against a wicked man, and an oppressor of the Lord's people: they are represented as assessors with God; called into a consultation with him; alluding to the manner of kings and princes, who have their privy council, whom they advise with on occasion; though, properly speaking, nothing of this nature is to be attributed to God, only after the manner of men; see 1 Kings 22:19.

and the demand by the word of the Holy Ones; the same as before, in other words; watchers and Holy Ones being the same, the holy angels; See Gill on Daniel 4:13, and the decree and the demand the same; or the request (o), or petition; which shows what concern they had in the decree; they only requested it might pass, or be carried into execution; though some understand this of saints on earth, who, in their prayers and supplications, requested for the judgments of God to come down upon this proud monarch: though, after all, it may be best to interpret the whole of the three Persons in the Godhead, who are perfectly pure and holy, essentially and inderivatively; and may be called watchers, because they watch over the good, to bring it upon the Lord's people; and over the evil, to bring it upon their enemies: and to them well agree the decree and the demand; and the rather this may be thought to be the true sense, since this decree is called the decree of the most High, Daniel 4:24, and who is expressed in the next clause:

to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men; though men have kingdoms on earth, and multitudes subject to them, yet they are not absolute sovereigns; there is a God that is higher than they, at whose control they are, and does whatsoever he pleases in their kingdoms, of which the event signified in this dream was a proof; and would be brought about on purpose to make it appear that those that live on earth (for, as for the dead, they know nothing what is done on it), both princes and people, might be sufficiently convinced of the truth of it:

and giveth it to whomsoever he will; that is, the kingdom; he takes it from one, and gives it to another; pulls down one, and sets up another, as he pleases; see Daniel 2:21,

and setteth up over it the basest of men; or, "the lowest of men" (p); men of the meanest and lowest rank and condition of life, as David was taken from the sheepfold, and made king of Israel; perhaps respect is had to Nebuchadnezzar himself; not to his person, as Saadiah, who says he was short, and low of stature; but to his llater state and condition, when he was taken from among the beasts of the field, and restored to his throne and kingdom.

(o) "petitio", Pagninus, Montanus; "postulatio", Munster; "hoc postulatum", Junius & Tremellius; "petitio haec", Piscator. (p) "humliem hominum". Montanus, Grotius; "humilem inter homines", Pagninus; "humilem virorum", Michaelis; "humillimum hominum", Cocceius.

{i} 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.

(i) God has decreed this judgment and the whole army of heaven has as it were joined in being a part of it, just as they also desire the execution of his decree against all those that lift up themselves against God.

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’).

Verse 17. - This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy odes: 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. In this verse the difference between the Septuagint text - we mean the text behind that version - and that of the Massoretes is great. It is as follows: "Until he know the Lord of heaven to have power over all things which are in heaven and on the earth, and such things as he willeth to do, he doeth." This, as may be observed, is very much briefer than the Massoretic, and hence, to a certain extent, to be preferred. It is, however, difficult to imagine the genesis of the one from the other, as they have only two words in common in a similar connection, שַׁלִּיּט (shaleet) and ינְדְּעוּן (yinedeoon)' If we start with the supposition that the Massoretic text is the primary, we have a difficulty in seeing what reason induced this peculiar form of condensation. Had it been to get rid of the decree of the watchers, and the demand of the holy ones, that clause might have been simply omitted, and the sense would have given no sign of anything having been omitted. If, again, we start with the Septuagint text as our basis, it is difficult to understand what led to the insertion of "the decree of the watchers" and "the demand of the holy ones." Of course, the period of the Persian domination and that of the early Greek supremacy was one in which the angelic hierarchy was enormously increased and made vastly more complex than it had been before. Further, it is to be noted that "the watchers," עירין ('ereen), are here distinguished absolutely from "the holy ones," קַדִישִׁין (gad-deesbeen), whereas in ver. 10 (13) "the watchers" and "the holy ones" are identified. This distinction is made in later Jewish commentators, and therefore its. presence here, fin contradistinction to ver. 13, is proof of a relatively late origin for this clause. Zockler would avoid this by asserting a parallelism of members in this sentence; but, in the first place, this is not verse, but prose, and therefore parallelism need not be expected. Further, גְזֵדֵת (gezayrath) is "a decree" given by a person in authority, and צּצּצּ (sh'alayth) is "a petition" presented to one in authority. So far from the two being identified in the verse before us, the watchers and the holy ones are as absolutely contrasted as they can be. Bevan simply appeals to ver. 10 (13) to prove their identity - sense has no influence with him. When we turn to Theodotion, we find that, in his practical identity with the Massoretic text, he has preserved the contrast between "decree" and "petition," the former word being represented by σύγκριμα, and the second by ἐπερώτημα. These two words represent fairly well the distinction between גְצֵרֵת (gezayrath), and שְׁאַלֵת (sh'alayth). It is probable that σύγκριμα is used instead of κρίμα in order to show that εἴρ is to be regarded as genitive plural. The Peshitta follows the Massoretic, but less closely. It has עיר, "watcher," in the singular. This clause in the Syriac should be rendered, "according to the decrees of the watcher is this order, and according to the word of the holy one is the request;" it retains the distinction in question much as it is in the received text, but with a distinct difference of meaning in regard to the ether words of the clause. So, too, Jerome in the Vulgate translates, "In sententia vigilum decretum eat et sermo sanctorum et petitio," thus maintaining, in all the confusion there is in this rendering, the distinction we have referred to. In the final clause, the Vulgate is further astray from the Massoretic. translating, super eum. The theology of this passage is singular, so singular that, were it not for the omission of the passage from the Septuagint. and its contradiction of ver. 13, we might be inclined to think it must be genuine. (For a similar statement, see Galatians 3:19, "The Law... was ordained by angels;" Hebrews 2:2, "If the word spoken by angels was steadfast.") The view seems to be that the Almighty had a council of angels, and before them was every question discussed ere it was decreed. In short, that there was a heavenly sanhedrin, corresponding to that on earth - an idea which was developed by the Talmudists. It appears in Enoch, not vet fully developed. In Enoch 12. certain of the watchers are denounced as having defiled themselves with women; in ch. 20. we have the name of the holy angels who watch, and in this chapter we have the different provinces assigned to each of them. Six are enumerated. They have thus no collective function. In the portion of Enoch preserved in Syncellus, men are represented as calling to the heavens, and addressing them; and the four angels, Michael, Uriel, Raphael, and Gabriel, give answer by looking down upon the earth, and they see the blood that is being shed by violence. Then follows the statement, "And the four archangels came before the Lord, and said." They may be here said to act in a collective capacity, but they have no deliberative function, still less have they any power to decree. The interpolated verse before us thus represents an angelo-logy more developed than that of the date of the Book of Enoch. And setteth up over it the basest of men. This phrase suggests the "vile person," נִבְּזֶה (nibezeh), of Daniel 11:21, who is probably Epiphanes - the reference in this interpolated verse is not unlikely the same. The Syriac form of עליה in the K'thib has to be observed. One peculiarity which points to interpolation is the Hebrew plural here used, אֶנָשִׁים (anasheem). Were it not that our suspicions of this verse are deepened by examination of it, we should be inclined to see a reference to that usurpation of Nebuchadnezzar's throne, which Lenormant thinks is implied in the title Neriglissar gives to his father. There seems to be a reference to something like this in ver. 24 of this chapter, according to the version of the LXX. Daniel 4:17(Daniel 4:14)

The divine messenger concludes his announcement with the words that the matter was unchangeably decreed, for this purpose, that men might be led to recognise the supremacy of the Most High over the kings of the earth. The first two passages have no verb, and thus the verb. substant. must be supplied. Accordingly we must not translate: by the decree of the watchers is the message, i.e., is it delivered (Kran.), nor: the decree is included in the fate, the unalterable will of Heaven (Hv.); but בdenotes the department within which the גּזרה lies, and is to be translated: "the message consists in, or rests on, the decree of the watchers." גּזרה, the unchangeable decision, the decretum divinum, quod homini aut rebus humanis tanquam inevitabile impositum est (Buxtorf's Lex. talm. rabb. p. 419), the Fatum in which the Chaldeans believed. Regarding פּתגּם see under Daniel 3:16. Here the fundamental meaning, the message, that which is to happen, can be maintained. The second member is synonymous, and affirms the same thing in another way. The word, the utterance of the holy ones, i.e., the watchers (see under Daniel 4:13), is שׁאלתּא, the matter. The meaning lying in the etymon, request or question, is not here suitable, but only the derivative meaning, matter as the object of the request or inquiry. The thing meant is that which is decided regarding the tree, that it should be cut down, etc. This is so clear, that a pronoun referring to it appears superfluous.

דּי דּברת עד, till the matter that ... to the end that; not equals דּי עד, Daniel 4:25, because here no defining of time goes before. The changing of עד into על (Hitz.) is unnecessary and arbitrary. That the living may know, etc. The expression is general, because it is not yet said who is to be understood by the tree which should be cut down. This general expression is in reality correct; for the king comes by experience to this knowledge, and so all will attain to it who consider this. The two last passages of Daniel 4:14 express more fully how the Most High manifests His supremacy over the kingdom of men. The Kethiv עליה is shortened from עליהא, and in the Keri is yet further shortened by the rejection of the ;י cf. Daniel 5:21; Daniel 7:4., etc.

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