Thus were the visions of my head in my bed; I saw, and behold a tree in the middle of the earth, and the height thereof was great.…
It must always be regarded as a mark of God's kindness, when he forewarns men of his impending judgments. If vindictive retribution only was intended, there would be no premobition. The old adage current among the heathen, "The gods have feet of wool," ires no place in God's kingdom. "The axe is laid at the root of the tree" - a proof that kindness is not extinct in God's bosom.
I. WE HAVE A PICTURE OF BRILLIANT PROSPERITY. It was a common method in olden time to represent a prosperous man under the image of a flourishing tree. "The righteous shall prosper as a palm tree: he shall grow as a cedar in Lebanon." The greatness and splendour of Nebuchadnezzar resembled such a tree. He reigned in Babylon - well-nigh the centre of the then known world. His power among earthly kings was supreme. Neighbouring monarchs were his vassals. In all his wars he had been successful. Israel and Syria, Egypt and Arabia, lay at his feet. His throne was strong, and his fame reached, as it seemed, to heaven. Nor did his rule appear, on the whole, injurious. The peoples found protection under his sceptre. He encouraged the growth of art and science. But this military glory fed and pampered his pride. He deemed himself something more than man. He imagined himself a demi-god. The prosperity was outward, material, plausible. It did not touch and transform his inner nature. His body was nursed in luxury, but he was starving his soul. The flower opened in unrivalled beauty, but there was a worm at the root. Ah! deceitful sunshine.
II. A PICTURE OF AWFUL REVERSE. It is no uncommon thing for prosperous men to suffer a sudden and complete reverse. "Riches make for themselves wings, and fly away." The props of a throne are soon snapped. The arm of military power is soon broken. Kings have ended life in a dungeon or on a scaffold. Not more complete is the contrast between a fruit tree in spring and the same tree in the frosty days of winter, than the conditions of some men - in the morning prosperous, in the evening stripped and naked. Can Fortune's best gifts be worth much, which give no warrant of continuance? The calamity which was preparing for Nebuchadnezzar was certainly the most severe that could befall a man. Worse than disease! Worse than leprosy Worse than death! He who had "set his heart as the heart of God," who had aspired to a place among the stars, was to fall below the level of a man - was to have the heart of a beast, abject weakness instead of imperial might, imbecility in place of boasted wisdom. This disaster is said to be proclaimed by a holy watcher. This language was an accommodation to prevalent beliefs. The unfallen angels, being unburdened with a corporeal nature, and having, therefore, no need of sleep, are ever wakeful to execute the commissions of Jehovah. These watch our course, grieve over our declensions, and correct us for our follies. So did an angel scatter the hosts of Sennacherib. So did an angel smite Herod with a fatal disease. "Are they not all ministering spirits?" "Excelling in strength, they do his commands, hearkening to the voice of his word."
III. TWIN RAYS OF HOPE. The Divine sentence proceeds with a succession of melancholy chastisements, until the word "nevertheless" is reached; then the deepening darkness is relieved by a gleam of hope. The stump of the root was to be preserved. This, of course, implied that the overthrow was not absolute and final. Room was yet left for repentance and restoration. Special means were chosen to preserve the stump from rot and injury. So all God's judgments, in this life, are corrective and are designed to be remedial. Judgment and mercy are blended in human discipline. The affliction, though severe, was not to be permanent and eternal. There was a limit in respect to duration: "Till seven times are passed over him." A sad apprenticeship in the dark prison of insanity, for seven years, was to be endured. And then, what? This was the momentous question. Was the issue, then, to be death? Or repentance, amendment, life? Tremendous issues hung upon the man's use of God's judgment. Every man is upon his trial. We are here "prisoners of hope." A ray of mercy gilds our path, which ray may broaden and brighten into eternal noon, or may be quenched in blackest night.
IV. A MERCIFUL DESIGN. There is no room for caprice or chance in the government of our world, nor in any of the affairs of men. Does insanity fall upon a man? It is by a heaven]y design. "The purpose of Jehovah, that shall stand." Mark, that God's intention was not simply the good of one individual man, but the good of all living. God uses one to teach many - disciplines one, that he may be a blessing to multitudes. "No man liveth unto himself." We receive good and evil mediately from the human race. We transmit blessing or bane to the future ages. God's high design is to teach men religious truth - "that the living may know that God ruleth" To know God, as the living, reigning God, - this is among the highest blessings we can obtain. If we know God, we shall long to be reconciled to him, to enjoy his friendship. Acquaintance with God will quicken the aspiration to be like him. To know him is the way to virtue, wisdom, eminence, peace. It is comparatively easy to instruct the beggar, it is very difficult to instruct the monarch, in this lore. How hardly shall they that have riches confess themselves poor! How hardly shall they that have dominion acknowledge their dependence! The poorest in this way may become the richest; the meanest among men may become the mightiest in the kingdom of heaven. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.