Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you.
Da 4:1-37. Edict of Nebuchadnezzar Containing His Second Dream, Relating to Himself.
Punished with insanity for his haughtiness, he sinks to the level of the beasts (illustrating Ps 49:6, 12). The opposition between bestial and human life, set forth here, is a key to interpret the symbolism in the seventh chapter concerning the beasts and the Son of man. After his conquests, and his building in fifteen days a new palace, according to the heathen historian, Abydenus (268 B.C.), whose account confirms Daniel, he ascended upon his palace roof (Da 4:29, Margin), whence he could see the surrounding city which he had built, and seized by some deity, he predicted the Persian conquest of Babylon, adding a prayer that the Persian leader might on his return be borne where there is no path of men, and where the wild beasts graze (language evidently derived by tradition from Da 4:32, 33, though the application is different). In his insanity, his excited mind would naturally think of the coming conquest of Babylon by the Medo-Persians, already foretold to him in the second chapter.
1. Peace—the usual salutation in the East, shalom, whence "salaam." The primitive revelation of the fall, and man's alienation from God, made "peace" to be felt as the first and deepest want of man. The Orientals (as the East was the cradle of revelation) retained the word by tradition.
I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me.
2. I thought it good—"It was seemly before me" (Ps 107:2-8).
signs—tokens significant of God's omnipotent agency. The plural is used, as it comprises the marvellous dream, the marvellous interpretation of it, and its marvellous issue.
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.
I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in mine house, and flourishing in my palace:
4. I was … at rest—my wars over, my kingdom at peace.
flourishing—"green." Image from a tree (Jer 17:8). Prosperous (Job 15:32).
I saw a dream which made me afraid, and the thoughts upon my bed and the visions of my head troubled me.
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. It may seem strange that Daniel was not first summoned. But it was ordered by God's providence that he should be reserved to the last, in order that all mere human means should be proved vain, before God manifested His power through His servant; thus the haughty king was stripped of all fleshly confidences. The Chaldees were the king's recognized interpreters of dreams; whereas Daniel's interpretation of the one in Da 2:24-45 had been a peculiar case, and very many years before; nor had he been consulted on such matters since.
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.
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. Belteshazzar—called so from the god Bel or Belus (see on Da 1:7).
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. spirit of the holy gods—Nebuchadnezzar speaks as a heathen, who yet has imbibed some notions of the true God. Hence he speaks of "gods" in the plural but gives the epithet "holy," which applies to Jehovah alone, the heathen gods making no pretension to purity, even in the opinion of their votaries (De 32:31; compare Isa 63:11). "I know" refers to his knowledge of Daniel's skill many years before (Da 2:8); hence he calls him "master of the magicians."
troubleth—gives thee difficulty in explaining it.
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. tree—So the Assyrian is compared to a "cedar" (Eze 31:3; compare Eze 17:24).
in the midst of the earth—denoting its conspicuous position as the center whence the imperial authority radiated in all directions.
The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth:
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. beasts … shadow under it—implying that God's purpose in establishing empires in the world is that they may be as trees affording men "fruits" for "meat," and a "shadow" for "rest" (compare La 4:20). But the world powers abuse their trust for self; therefore Messiah comes to plant the tree of His gospel kingdom, which alone shall realize God's purpose (Eze 17:23; Mt 13:32). Herodotus [7.19] mentions a dream (probably suggested by the tradition of this dream of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel) which Xerxes had; namely, that he was crowned with olive, and that the branches of the olive filled the whole earth, but that afterwards the crown vanished from his head: signifying his universal dominion soon to come to an end.
I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven;
13. watcher and an holy one—rather, "even an holy one." Only one angel is intended, and he not one of the bad, but of the holy angels. Called a "watcher," because ever on the watch to execute God's will [Jerome], (Ps 103:20, 21). Compare as to their watchfulness, Re 4:8, "full of eyes within … they rest not day and night." Also they watch good men committed to their charge (Ps 34:7; Heb 1:14); and watch over the evil to record their sins, and at God's bidding at last punish them (Jer 4:16, 17), "watchers" applied to human instruments of God's vengeance. As to God (Da 9:14; Job 7:12; 14:16; Jer 44:27). In a good sense (Ge 31:49; Jer 31:28). The idea of heavenly "watchers" under the supreme God (called in the Zendavesta of the Persian Zoroaster, Ormuzd) was founded on the primeval revelation as to evil angels having watched for an opportunity until they succeeded in tempting man to his ruin, and good angels ministering to God's servants (as Jacob, Ge 28:15; 32:1, 2). Compare the watching over Abraham for good, and over Sodom for wrath after long watching in vain for good men it it, for whose sake He would spare it, Ge 18:23-33; and over Lot for good, Ge 19:1-38 Daniel fitly puts in Nebuchadnezzar's mouth the expression, though not found elsewhere in Scripture, yet substantially sanctioned by it (2Ch 16:9; Pr 15:3; Jer 32:19), and natural to him according to Oriental modes of thought.
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. Hew down—(Mt 3:10; Lu 13:7). The holy (Jude 14) one incites his fellow angels to God's appointed work (compare Re 14:15, 18).
beasts get away from under it—It shall no longer afford them shelter (Eze 31:12).
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. stump—The kingdom is still reserved secure for him at last, as a tree stump secured by a hoop of brass and iron from being split by the sun's heat, in the hope of its growing again (Isa 11:1; compare Job 14:7-9). Barnes refers it to the chaining of the royal maniac.
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. heart—understanding (Isa 6:10).
times—that is, "years" (Da 12:7). "Seven" is the perfect number: a week of years: a complete revolution of time accompanying a complete revolution in his state of mind.
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. 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).
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.
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. Daniel … Belteshazzar—The use of the Hebrew as well as the Chaldee name, so far from being an objection, as some have made it, is an undesigned mark of genuineness. In a proclamation to "all people," and one designed to honor the God of the Hebrews, Nebuchadnezzar would naturally use the Hebrew name (derived from El, "God," the name by which the prophet was best known among his countrymen), as well as the Gentile name by which he was known in the Chaldean empire.
astonied—overwhelmed with awe at the terrible import of the dream.
one hour—the original means often "a moment," or "short time," as in Da 3:6, 15.
let not the dream … trouble thee—Many despots would have punished a prophet who dared to foretell his overthrow. Nebuchadnezzar assures Daniel he may freely speak out.
the dream be to them that hate thee—We are to desire the prosperity of those under whose authority God's providence has placed us (Jer 29:7). The wish here is not so much against others, as for the king: a common formula (2Sa 18:32). It is not the language of uncharitable hatred.
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. The tree is the king. The branches, the princes. The leaves, the soldiers. The fruits, the revenues. The shadow, the protection afforded to dependent states.
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:
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. It is thou—He speaks pointedly, and without circumlocution (2Sa 12:7). While pitying the king, he uncompromisingly pronounces his sentence of punishment. Let ministers steer the mean between, on the one hand, fulminations against sinners under the pretext of zeal, without any symptom of compassion; and, on the other, flattery of sinners under the pretext of moderation.
to the end of the earth—(Jer 27:6-8). To the Caspian, Euxine, and Atlantic seas.
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;
This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the most High, which is come upon my lord the king:
24. decree of the Most High—What was termed in Da 4:17 by Nebuchadnezzar, "the decree of the watchers," is here more accurately termed by Daniel, "the decree of the Most High." They are but His ministers.
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. they shall drive thee—a Chaldee idiom for "thou shalt be driven." Hypochondriacal madness was his malady, which "drove" him under the fancy that he was a beast, to "dwell with the beasts"; Da 4:34 proves this, "mine understanding returned." The regency would leave him to roam in the large beast-abounding parks attached to the palace.
eat grass—that is, vegetables, or herbs in general (Ge 3:18).
they shall wet thee—that is, thou shalt be wet.
till thou know, &c.—(Ps 83:17, 18; Jer 27:5).
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. thou shalt have known, &c.—a promise of spiritual grace to him, causing the judgment to humble, not harden, his heart.
heavens do rule—The plural is used, as addressed to Nebuchadnezzar, the head of an organized earthly kingdom, with various principalities under the supreme ruler. So "the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 4:17; Greek, "kingdom of the heavens") is a manifold organization, composed of various orders of angels, under the Most High (Eph 1:20, 21; 3:10; Col 1:16).
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. break off—as a galling yoke (Ge 27:40); sin is a heavy load (Mt 11:28). The Septuagint and Vulgate translate not so well, "redeem," which is made an argument for Rome's doctrine of the expiation of sins by meritorious works. Even translate it so, it can only mean; Repent and show the reality of thy repentance by works of justice and charity (compare Lu 11:41); so God will remit thy punishment. The trouble will be longer before it comes, or shorter when it does come. Compare the cases of Hezekiah, Isa 38:1-5; Nineveh, Jon 3:5-10; Jer 18:7, 8. The change is not in God, but in the sinner who repents. As the king who had provoked God's judgments by sin, so he might avert it by a return to righteousness (compare Ps 41:1, 2; Ac 8:22). Probably, like most Oriental despots, Nebuchadnezzar had oppressed the poor by forcing them to labor in his great public works without adequate remuneration.
if … lengthening of … tranquillity—if haply thy present prosperity shall be prolonged.
All this came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar.
At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon.
29. twelve months—This respite was granted to him to leave him without excuse. So the hundred twenty years granted before the flood (Ge 6:3). At the first announcement of the coming judgment he was alarmed, as Ahab (1Ki 21:27), but did not thoroughly repent; so when judgment was not executed at once, he thought it would never come, and so returned to his former pride (Ec 8:11).
in the palace—rather, upon the (flat) palace roof, whence he could contemplate the splendor of Babylon. So the heathen historian, Abydenus, records. The palace roof was the scene of the fall of another king (2Sa 11:2). The outer wall of Nebuchadnezzar's new palace embraced six miles; there were two other embattled walls within, and a great tower, and three brazen gates.
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. Babylon, that I have built—Herodotus ascribes the building of Babylon to Semiramis and Nitocris, his informant under the Persian dynasty giving him the Assyrian and Persian account. Berosus and Abydenus give the Babylonian account, namely, that Nebuchadnezzar added much to the old city, built a splendid palace and city walls. Herodotus, the so-called "father of history," does not even mention Nebuchadnezzar. (Nitocris, to whom he attributes the beautifying of Babylon, seems to have been Nebuchadnezzar's wife). Hence infidels have doubted the Scripture account. But the latter is proved by thousands of bricks on the plain, the inscriptions of which have been deciphered, each marked "Nebuchadnezzar, the son of Nabopolassar." "Built," that is, restored and enlarged (2Ch 11:5, 6). It is curious, all the bricks have been found with the stamped face downwards. Scarcely a figure in stone, or tablet, has been dug out of the rubbish heaps of Babylon, whereas Nineveh abounds in them; fulfilling Jer 51:37, "Babylon shall become heaps." The "I" is emphatic, by which he puts himself in the place of God; so the "my … my." He impiously opposes his might to God's, as though God's threat, uttered a year before, could never come to pass. He would be more than man; God, therefore, justly, makes him less than man. An acting over again of the fall; Adam, once lord of the world and the very beasts (Ge 1:28; so Nebuchadnezzar Da 2:38), would be a god (Ge 3:5); therefore he must die like the beasts (Ps 82:6; 49:12). The second Adam restores the forfeited inheritance (Ps 8:4-8).
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. While, &c.—in the very act of speaking, so that there could be no doubt as to the connection between the crime and the punishment. So Lu 12:19, 20.
O king … to thee it is spoken—Notwithstanding thy kingly power, to thee thy doom is now spoken, there is to be no further respite.
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.
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. driven from men—as a maniac fancying himself a wild beast. It is possible, a conspiracy of his nobles may have co-operated towards his having been "driven" forth as an outcast.
hairs … eagles' feathers—matted together, as the hair-like, thick plumage of the ossifraga eagle. The "nails," by being left uncut for years, would become like "claws."
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. lifted up mine eyes unto heaven—whence the "voice" had issued (Da 4:31) at the beginning of his visitation. Sudden mental derangement often has the effect of annihilating the whole interval, so that, when reason returns, the patient remembers only the event that immediately preceded his insanity. Nebuchadnezzar's looking up towards heaven was the first symptom of his "understanding" having "returned." Before, like the beasts, his eyes had been downward to the earth. Now, like Jonah's (Jon 2:1, 2, 4) out of the fish's belly, they are lifted up to heaven in prayer. He turns to Him that smiteth him (Isa 9:13), with the faint glimmer of reason left to him, and owns God's justice in punishing him.
praised … him—Praise is a sure sign of a soul spiritually healed (Ps 116:12, 14; Mr 5:15, 18, 19).
I … honoured him—implying that the cause of his chastisement was that he had before robbed God of His honor.
everlasting dominion—not temporary or mutable, as a human king's dominion.
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. all … as nothing—(Isa 40:15, 17).
according to his will in … heaven—(Ps 115:3; 135:6; Mt 6:10; Eph 1:11).
army—the heavenly hosts, angels and starry orbs (compare Isa 24:21).
none … stay his hand—literally, "strike His hand." Image from striking the hand of another, to check him in doing anything (Isa 43:13; 45:9).
What doest thou—(Job 9:12; Ro 9:20).
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. An inscription in the East India Company's Museum is read as describing the period of Nebuchadnezzar's insanity [G. V. Smith]. In the so-called standard inscription read by Sir H. Rawlinson, Nebuchadnezzar relates that during four (?) years he ceased to lay out buildings, or to furnish with victims Merodach's altar, or to clear out the canals for irrigation. No other instance in the cuneiform inscriptions occurs of a king recording his own inaction.
my counsellors … sought unto me—desired to have me, as formerly, to be their head, wearied with the anarchy which prevailed in my absence (compare Note, see on Da 4:33); the likelihood of a conspiracy of the nobles is confirmed by this verse.
majesty was added—My authority was greater than ever before (Job 42:12; Pr 22:4; "added," Mt 6:33).
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. praise … extol … honour—He heaps word on word, as if he cannot say enough in praise of God.
all whose works … truth … judgment—that is, are true and just (Re 15:3; 16:7). God has not dealt unjustly or too severely with me; whatever I have suffered, I deserved it all. It is a mark of true contrition to condemn one's self, and justify God (Ps 51:4).
those that walk in pride … abase—exemplified in me. He condemns himself before the whole world, in order to glorify God.