The tree grew large and strong; its top reached the sky, and it was visible to the ends of the earth.
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.
I saw and behold a tree in the midst of the earth.I. UNDUE EXALTATION OF SPIRIT MAY BRING DEGRADATION OF THE FLESH. Rich men often look over a vast domain which they call their own, and the sight of their outward and visible possessions may inflate their spirit with pride, as air forced: into a bladder will expand it to its utmost extent Yet much that they look upon may have been bought for them by the blood and brain and sweat of others, the thought of whose labour ought to prevent the vain-glory of the possessor. This was the case with this giant king of the olden times (v.30.) And he bestowed no thought on the outstanding debt due to the human beings who had really build the city. If he had looked beyond that which was immediately before him, he would have seen the captives whom he had taken in war toiling to raise for him the stately buildings, those who had wrought for him, and had been repaid with scanty food and an iron rule. "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built:" But he "feared not God, neither regarded man."
II. THE DEGRADATION OF THE FLESH MAY LEAD TO A RIGHT EXALTATION OF SPIRIT (V. 34). There are many people whom prosperity fails to bring to a right state of heart before God, and then chastisement becomes a necessity. God is willing to try the rod when nothing but the rod will bring the desired end. There are many men in the world who are much less overbearing towards the weak after they have been knocked down by a stronger arm than their own.
III. A DOXOLOGY WILL SPRING FROM A RIGHT EXALTATION OF SPIRIT (V. 37). Praise from a soul that has been humiliated in body and smitten in circumstance is the best sign that it has come into a condition of sound humility, and that the affliction has not been in vain. But praise is the outcome of pain when the pain has been followed by healing. So with Nebuchadnezzar. He passed through a painful experience, but it issued in bringing him to the feet of the Eternal God. Lessons:
1. Divine punish merit may become Divine healing. Diseases require treatment in proportion to their severity, and of all soul-disease there is none more difficult to cure than pride, "which is an abomination to the Lord" (Proverbs 16:5). But in the case before us, as in many others, the chastisement of the sin became the instrument of its cure.
2. Those who have most sympathy with God are the most bold in declaring the conditions of His mercy. Daniel feared not to tell his king of his sins, and to warn him that repentance was the only way to escape judgment.
(A. London Minister.)
1. Is there not some portion of that old Babylonish pride in your hearts? You have never committed the same sins as the insane king, it is true. But have you, ever been tried as he was — brought up in the midst of royal luxury, taught to regard all men as beneath him and subject to his will, and made absolute from childhood, so that his slightest wish was law? If not you have nothing to boast of, and yet those sins you count so little may be as great as his were to him. That love of dress, that greed of money-making, the forgetfulness of common mercies, the neglect of religious duty, are but developments of the same disease which afflicted him. "Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches?"
2. How often have we seen this literally fulfilled — the edifice of pride, which had been erected by the toilsome labour of one man, dashed to the ground in ruin, while the possessor sees his children, bankrupt of youth and innocence, ignorant and regardless of the only treasure they can carry with them into a better world?
3. Can there be a more useful antidote than this chapter for the materialism which prevails, for fraud in high places, for public dishonesty, the mixture of luxury and bankruptcy and business immorality which threaten to sweep away the barriers of right and truth? What can we apprehend from such scenes but the stern and solemn voice of the watcher, "Hew down the tree?" Surely, then, this record speaks to us to aim at greater purity and simplicity of manner, at greater economy — for a reckless spendthrift must be dishonest, as he spends what he does not earn. We should deny ourselves in the way of vain show, and not be guilty of the folly of endeavouring to outdo each other in finery, in great parties, in luxurious living and magnificent extravagance. The spending of a half-year's earnings in a single day is nothing but insanity.
(J. Medley, D.D.)
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