Daniel 4:4-18, 20-27
I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in my house, and flourishing in my palace:…
Behold a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great (ver. 10). The subject naturally suggested by the text is that of human greatness, its rise, its decay, its restoration. It should be remembered, even in the first entertainment of the theme, that this greatness may inhere in man individual as in man collective. To guide our thoughts, especially in its practical applications, it will be well, then, to keep distinctly before us the concept man, and also that other - the nation. The applications will then be rich and manifold. A striking illustration of the greatness of a nation is to be found in the slow growth and present position of Great Britain. That tree has indeed "reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth." The pre-eminence of the Anglo-Saxon race, including now the people of the United States, is a still grander illustration. Another hint - that we may not lose ourselves in the grandiloquent and miss the practical, observe that greatness is, after all, only relative, that all humanity is as nothing compared with the majesty of the Eternal. A workman may be relatively great in the workshop; a child in the school; therefore there is no limit to the applications of the subject. Apply it to the low levels of common life, as well as to the highest,
I. HUMAN GREATNESS - IN ITS RISE. Observe:
1. Its dependence. The tree and the man are alike in this - in being living things. Now, life at first is from God; and is ever sustained by effluence from him. The tone of the king (ver. 30) was that of moral madness (see also ver. 17).
2. Its growth. The tree from its tiny seed. The law of man's life is that he must grow. The tendency of man (both individual and collective) is to growth. He ought to be so indefinitely. The man that ceases to grow at forty or fifty, mentally, morally, is dead. The young, aspiring spirit is to be retained to life's last hour. Looked at on the reverse side, no greatness is instantly attained. Neither man nor nation vaults into the throne of moral eminence. Wait, but actively wait, not passively, as the child, of mere circumstance.
3. Its majesty. The tree majestic. Man majestic. So a nation. Let not false humility preach otherwise. The grander our conceptions of man, the higher our adoration of his Maker. Even sin cannot hide the original grandeur. A temple, albeit in ruins.
4. Its loneliness. Eminence ever lonely. The spires above the city. The snow-domes above the lower mountain ranges. As man rises, he retains, or he should retain, sympathy with all below; but he himself rises into a region where the lower sympathies do not follow him (see Robertson on 'The Loneliness of Christ;' and. Dr. Caird on Isaiah 63:3, in volume of ' Sermons').
5. Its conspicuousness. The tree was seen from every part of the far horizon. The more eminent man or nation, the more the observed of all observers. The attendant responsibility, therefore - virtue more influential, vice more pestilential.
6. Its use. (Ver. 12.) Literal pressing of the figure here impossible. Keep to the commanding central thought, that human greatness must not have self for its object. The eminence of man is for beneficence. We live for others, and in so doing find our richest life. One might be tempted to say that in this we contrast with God; but not so. All things, indeed, flow in upon God as their object, but only that he may again give himself, in the grandeur of his love, to the universe.
II. IN ITS DECLINE. Note:
1. The failure. In the dream-parable of the tree, nothing is said of the failure; but look at the man, Nebuchadnezzar. To appreciate his usual delinquency we must take account of the extraordinary character of his public works; the aim, pitilessly pursued, of his own aggrandizement; the consequent sacrifice of the wealth, labour, comfort, happiness, and lives of his people. (See 'Daniel, Statesman and Prophet,' R.T.S., pp. 119-121, 126, 127.) The eminence of the great king was not for use and benediction.
2. The judgment.
(1) Its time. In the very height of the king's prosperity. "I was at rest in my house, and green in my palace" (ver. 4). We do not know the exact date, but we know the time in relation to the rest of the king's life. At rest in domestic relations; no serious solicitude about public affairs; conquests achieved; great buildings finished.
(2) Its cause. Insist on the truth that the doom of men and nations is morally conditioned. Illustrations are more than abundant in modern life.
(3) Its source. Observe: the "watchers" here are not necessarily angels; for they are not objectively real, but subjective in the dream. Still, they point to a reality in heaven.
(a) Intelligence there. The watcher intellectually was characterized by a large, piercing, sleepless eye.
(b) Holiness. This the moral characteristic. "A holy one."
(c) Arbitrament there.
(d) Power there. "Cried aloud." The execution certain (ver. 17).
3. The decay. (Ver. 15.) Compare parables of the talent and of the pound.
III. IN ITS RESTORATION. Observe:
1. The subject remains. The man indestructible (ver. 15). The moral possibilities abide.
2. The conditions of restoration.
(1) The reawakening of the consciousness of God. (Ver. 34.)
(3) Bearing practical fruit. (Ver. 27.)
(4) The conditions accepted on the ground of Christ's atonement.
The atonement, so far as its efficacy goes, is a perpetual fact. The Lamb has been "slain from the foundation of the world." Knowledge of the atonement not absolutely necessary to those blessed by it. It stands as an objective ground, justifying Divine benedictions on the unworthy. The providence of God is the atonement in action. The moral government of God is, since the Fall, mediatorial, always and every where. - R.
Parallel VersesKJV: I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in mine house, and flourishing in my palace: