5. Nebuchadnezzar Learns About the Birds and the Beasts (Daniel 4:1-37)
Current world events have resulted in the radical reshaping of the USSR. The recent Russian coup was the desperate effort of a dying political regime to regain power over millions of people. The failed attempt gave those nations which were once a part of the Soviet Union an opportunity to declare their independence and throw off the shackles of communism. Never in my lifetime has such a dramatic change happened so quickly and with so little bloodshed.
President Mikhail Gorbechev of the USSR was deposed for several days before it became evident that the coup had failed. For those few days, he was removed from his position and power. Although he was later released and returned to office as President of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev has not been the same man since. Quickly, others, especially Boris Yeltsin, rose to a power and prominence even greater than Gorbechev. Formerly, nations which recognized the authority of the USSR submitted themselves to the rule of President Gorbachev. Not so today. These nations now are declaring themselves free from communist party domination and the USSR. A few days’ loss of power produced a radical transformation in the USSR and the rule of its president.
Centuries ago, another powerful leader was temporarily set aside. Daniel 4 records the events of at least eight years when Nebuchadnezzar was the powerful king of Babylon. During this time, the king was warned in a dream of divine discipline. Choosing to disregard the warning, Nebuchadnezzar became insane for seven years, and his position and power were removed while he lived like an animal.
Following the seven years of divine discipline, Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity was restored. His kingdom was also restored, and his majesty and splendor were given back and even increased. But Nebuchadnezzar was never the same again. On the surface, our text describes the way God dealt personally and individually with Nebuchadnezzar. The lessons learned by this king have a much broader application than just to Gentile kings. That which God taught Nebuchadnezzar, He was also seeking to teach His people, Israel. Beyond this, as we explore our text, we should see that these lesssons are of vital importance to every Christian and every non-Christian.
Our Text in Context
Daniel 4 is the last of four chapters which depicts the way God used Daniel and his three friends to impact Nebuchadnezzar, the king who not only defeated Jerusalem and Judea, but who carried them into Babylonia. As the prophets had long warned, and as Daniel informs us (see Daniel 1:1-2; 9:1-19), this was from the hand of God, who was chastening His people for their persistent sin and rebellion.
Progressively king Nebuchadnezzar came to learn about the God of Israel and to acknowledge His superiority over the gods of Babylon. In chapter 1, we see the faithfulness of Daniel and his friends to God and to His law. The king seems ignorant of Daniel’s God but recognizes the superior wisdom of Daniel and his three friends. He even appoints them to sit among his wise men. In chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar learns that Daniel’s God is all-wise and able to reveal the future to men. In chapter 3, he learns that Israel’s God is not only all-wise, but all-powerful. Daniel’s God is able to deliver those who trust in Him, even from a powerful king. But in chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar comes to grips with Israel’s God in a very personal way. Somewhere in the events of this chapter, the king is radically changed. We would say he was saved. The God whom Nebuchadnezzar once knew only intellectually, he now comes to trust and worship in a very personal way. Chapter 4 is the high point of Nebuchadnezzar’s life, a point he reached by being brought to an all-time low.
The Nature of Our Text
Chapter 4 is a continuation of chapters 1-3 in that Nebuchadnezzar is the central character.49 Chapters 1-4 may be viewed as a unit, with chapter 4 as the conclusion of this first section in Daniel. This chapter could, and did, stand alone, and its uniqueness should be recognized and appreciated.
Although chapter 4 originally stood by itself as a letter from the king of Babylon, it has been neatly integrated into the Book of Daniel. The letter was written to all the peoples, of every language (4:1). Verses 1-18 are written in the first person (“I”) and verses 19-33 in the second and third person (“you,” “the king”). This is necessary in part because someone of sound mind must describe the king’s insanity. Finally, in verses 34-37, the text returns to a narration in the first person (“I”), where the king once again publicly praises the God of Israel, while humbly acknowledging his own humiliation and restoration.
Some dispute that Nebuchadnezzar became a true believer in these verses. Their reluctance to acknowledge his conversion is understandable, for the text focuses not on Nebuchadnezzar’s salvation but on his removal and restoration from office. I do not know of any unbeliever who could write as Nebuchadnezzar has in these verses. His introductory words and conclusion sound similar to those written centuries later, penned by the apostle Paul, words which do not exalt men, but God.
The Structure of Our Text
The structure of Daniel 4 may be outlined as follows:
(1) Verses 1-3 — Nebuchadnezzar’s Greeting
(2) Verses 4-12 — Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream: Part I
(3) Verses 13-18 — Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream: Part II
(4) Verses 19-27 — Daniel’s Interpretation and Exhortation
(5) Verses 28-33 — Nebuchadnezzar Put Out to Pasture
(6) Verses 34-37 — Nebuchadnezzar’s Praise
1 Nebuchadnezzar the king to all the peoples, nations, and men of every language that live in all the earth: “May your peace abound! 2 It has seemed good to me to declare the signs and wonders which the Most High God has done for me. 3 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.”
Flattering though it may not be, Daniel 4 is more than a biographical sketch of events in the life of king Nebuchadnezzar. It is more than an authorized account of the fall and rise of this Gentile king. This is a personal testimony, directed to all peoples, of every language, not just one nation or race. The focus is not on man, but on the one true God, the God of Israel. One would hardly expect such a testimony in light of these words from the king in the previous chapter:
14 “… Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? 15 Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, and bagpipe, and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you will not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” (Daniel 3:14b-15).
This king, mighty in battle, the instrument through whom the king of Judah was defeated and taken captive, now sends forth a greeting of peace and not war. He who once worshipped his own heathen deities now publicly praises the God of Israel! Introducing his account of what this God has personally done in his life through mighty signs and wonders, this earthly king speaks of God and of His eternal kingdom. If these are not the words of a convert, I do not know what more could be asked as proof of conversion. The verses that follow describe the events which convinced and converted this once heathen king.
Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream—Part I
4 “I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and flourishing in my palace. 5 I saw a dream and it made me fearful; and these fantasies as I lay on my bed and the visions in my mind kept alarming me. 6 So I gave orders to bring into my presence all the wise men of Babylon, that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream. 7 Then the magicians, the conjurers, the Chaldeans, and the diviners came in, and I related the dream to them; but they could not make its interpretation known to me. 8 But finally Daniel came in before me, whose name is Belteshazzar according to the name of my god, and in whom is a spirit of the holy gods; and I related the dream to him, saying, 9 ‘O Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, since I know that a spirit of the holy gods is in you and no mystery baffles you, tell me the visions of my dream which I have seen, along with its interpretation. 10 Now these were the visions in my mind as I lay on my bed: I was looking, and behold, there was a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. 11 The tree grew large and became strong, and its height reached to the sky, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth. 12 Its foliage was beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches, and all living creatures fed themselves from it.
Verses 4 and 5 set the scene. The king is about to describe the dream which caused him such distress. But first he informs us that the dream came to him in the ease and luxury of his earthly kingdom when, in his own words, he was “at ease” and “flourishing” (verse 4). There was nothing intrinsically evil about his success, his power, or his wealth. But something was drastically wrong with his attitude toward his prosperity and his use of his position and power. His prosperity played a part in his problem, as Daniel will soon indicate to the king.
Once again, God revealed future events to the king in a night dream (see 2:1-3, 28-29). What he saw greatly troubled the king (verse 5). Calling for his wise men, this time he did not demand that they first declare his dream to him; he knew this was too much to ask. He told them his dream and then asked for their interpretation. As before, none of the king’s heathen wise men could declare the meaning of the dream.
At last, Daniel appears before the king. We are not told that the king summoned Daniel specifically, but he does seem confident that Daniel would be able to interpret his dream. He refers to Daniel by his Babylonian name, Belteshazzar, rather than his Hebrew name. No mention is made of Daniel’s God, but only of the “spirit of the holy gods” (verse 8).
Why did the king not summon Daniel first? Why does he not mention Daniel’s God? Why the more general reference to the “gods” ? It is not difficult to theorize the answers. At the pinnacle of success, pride and arrogance have swollen the king’s ego. How could he retain his pride if he admitted the futility of his own religion? How could he keep his image and honor, and praise the God of one of the nations subject to him?
Doubtless, Nebuchadnezzar believed Daniel could interpret his dream, but he wanted to give his wise men an opportunity first. Today we hear the expression, “Buy American.” If possible, Nebuchadnezzar wanted to “Buy Babylonian.” He wanted one of his heathen wise men to interpret the dream. Likely it would be more flattering than what Daniel would reveal. And he would not be forced to face the superiority of Daniel’s God. Daniel was Nebuchadnezzar’s last chance. Only when all else failed did he call upon this Hebrew to interpret his dream. Even when Daniel stood before the king, the king dealt with him only as a man in touch with the gods like the rest of his wise men. He seems to hope Daniel will deal with him as a heathen rather than as a Hebrew.
The king begins by telling Daniel the first part of his dream in verses 10-12, the “good news” portion, which did not trouble him. But this was the way the dream began; a great and mighty tree reached high into the sky, prominent for all the world to behold. Its boughs and fruit provided both food and shelter for the birds and the beasts of the earth.
Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream—Part II
13 ‘I was looking in the visions in my mind as I lay on my bed, and behold, an angelic watcher, a holy one, descended from heaven. 14 He shouted out and spoke as follows: “Chop down the tree and cut off its branches, strip off its foliage and scatter its fruit; let the beasts flee from under it, and the birds from its branches. 15 Yet leave the stump with its roots in the ground, but with a band of iron and bronze around it in the new grass of the field; and let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him share with the beasts in the grass of the earth. 16 Let his mind be changed from that of a man, and let a beast’s mind be given to him, and let seven periods of time pass over him. 17 This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers, and the decision is a command of the holy ones, in order that the living may know that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes, and sets over it the lowliest of men.” 18 ‘This is the dream which I, King Nebuchadnezzar, have seen. Now you, Belteshazzar, tell me its interpretation, inasmuch as none of the wise men of my kingdom is able to make known to me the interpretation; but you are able, for a spirit of the holy gods is in you.’
Most distressing to the king was the second act of his dream. An “angelic watcher” enters the scene, calling for the tree to be cut down. Its branches were to be removed and its fruit scattered. A metal band was to be put around the stump, prohibiting its growth. The “tree” was now to become a creature, living in the open field among the beasts and having the mind of a beast.
The king may not have understood the symbolism, but the words spoken by the watcher clearly spelled trouble for Nebuchadnezzar. The words struck terror into the heart of this proud, arrogant ruler:
“This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers, and the decision is a command of the holy ones, in order that the living may know that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes, and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Daniel 4:17).
The king implores Daniel to inform him of the dream’s meaning.
Daniel’s Interpretation and Exhortation
19 “Then Daniel, whose name is Belteshazzar, was appalled for a while as his thoughts alarmed him. The king responded and said, ‘Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its interpretation alarm you.’ Belteshazzar answered and said, ‘My lord, if only the dream applied to those who hate you, and its interpretation to your adversaries! 20 The tree that you saw, which became large and grew strong, whose height reached to the sky and was visible to all the earth, 21 and whose foliage was beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in which was food for all, under which the beasts of the field dwelt and in whose branches the birds of the sky lodged— 22 it is you, O king; for you have become great and grown strong, and your majesty has become great and reached to the sky and your dominion to the end of the earth. 23 and in that the king saw an angelic watcher, a holy one, descending from heaven and saying, “Chop down the tree and destroy it; yet leave the stump with its roots in the ground, but with a band of iron and bronze around it in the new grass of the field, and let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him share with the beasts of the field until seven periods of time pass over him” ; 24 ‘this is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king: 25 that you be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place be with the beasts of the field, and you be given grass to eat like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven; and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whomever He wishes. 26 And in that it was commanded to leave the stump with the roots of the tree, your kingdom will be assured to you after you recognize that it is Heaven that rules. 27 Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you: break away now from your sins by doing righteousness, and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity.’”
Fully grasping the dream and its interpretation must have dramatically changed Daniel’s facial expression. From Daniel’s body language, the king must have read that the revelation he had received from the dream was bad news. Nevertheless, the king was intent on knowing the meaning of the dream. He encouraged Daniel not to be distressed by what the dream meant. In truth, it seems that Daniel was more deeply affected by the dream than the king.
Daniel prefaced his interpretation with a sincere expression of his love and concern for the king. He wished that the dream applied to the king’s enemies and not the king himself. Daniel is truly committed to serve his king and to contribute to his well-being. In Daniel, we see a man who not only understands biblical submission, but one who practices it. He now reveals to Nebuchadnezzar the meaning of his dream, concluding with a course of action which might avert or delay the adversity of which the king is warned.
On the one hand, the tree depicts things as they were. The increasing height and beauty of the tree depicts the rapidly increasing majesty and splendor of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. On the other hand, the tree reveals the ideal, or the standard, by which Nebuchadnezzar’s reign is evaluated. It is on the basis of the failure of Nebuchadnezzar to live up to this standard that he is brought low, as indicated in the second portion of his dream.
Nebuchadnezzar judged himself and his kingdom according to the standard of greatness, power, and glory. By this standard, the king had done well. The “tree” was not created primarily for its own greatness or glory. It was to provide shelter and food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the field, providing for and protecting the earthly animals.50
The text’s inference is that Nebuchadnezzar failed to grasp the purpose for his kingdom in the divine economy. He looked at his kingdom in terms of how well it promoted and displayed his own power and glory, not in terms of the purpose for which God had ordained it. For example, while God had raised up Nebuchadnezzar to defeat, capture, and preserve the Jews of Jerusalem and Judah, Nebuchadnezzar had set himself on a course of action which would have destroyed the Jews (see chapter 3). Rather than look upon wealth and power as a divinely bestowed stewardship, to be used to benefit the weak and the poor, Nebuchadnezzar seems to have used his power to oppress the powerless. For this reason, Nebuchadnezzar will be brought low, or, in the figure of the tree, he will be cut down and his stump banded for a period of seven years.
Reluctantly, Daniel reveals to king Nebuchadnezzar that a time of divine discipline lies ahead. Instead of being a great tree, from which the earthly creatures may find food and shelter, the tree will be cut down and join the earthly creatures. Rather than remain as a tree, the king is about to become bird-like and beast-like. His hair will become like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws (verse 33). His food will be that of the beasts of the field. He will graze like a beast and live in the field without shelter, so that the dew of heaven will drench him (verse 25). Even his thinking will be beast-like (verse 16).
All that happens to the king will be done not for his ultimate destruction, but for his deliverance and restoration. The time of his humiliation is seven years. The basis for his restoration will be his acknowledgement of the sovereignty of Almighty God, who rules in heaven, and who both raises up kings and puts them down. His restoration to sanity and power will come when he acknowledges that he is God’s unworthy servant, who has been given power to benefit and bless others rather than exalt and glorify himself.
Verse 27 must be recognized as a key verse. Daniel goes beyond the dream and its meaning to urge the king to take preventative measures, forestalling if possible this divine discipline and prolonging his prosperity. Daniel exhorts the king to “break away from his sins” and to “do righteousness,” to cease his “iniquities” and to “show mercy to the poor.”
It is here that the king’s sins are more specifically exposed and the nature and manifestation of true repentance is made known to the king. His pride and arrogance are exposed as the root of his sin. The fruit of his sin seems to be self-promotion and the oppression of the poor.
It is imperative that we see Daniel linking pride and oppression in this text. The king’s pride has resulted in the oppression of the poor. The king’s humiliation is to be the cure, resulting in justice and mercy. What is the connection between pride and oppression?
Pride is a kind of plagiarism. It attempts to grasp for ourselves the glory which belongs to another. Nebuchadnezzar took all the glory for the greatness of his kingdom; he did not give glory to God. In effect, he began to set himself in the seat of God, reminiscent of other glory-seeking creatures, including Satan himself (see Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28). Taking glory which does not belong to us causes us to see ourselves as better than others. Pride ignores and denies the truth that prosperity comes from God, as a gift of His grace, and not the reward for our greatness. Pride also interprets others’ poverty as proof of inferiority and the penalty for inferiority. Sooner or later, pride justifies the use of power as rightly taking advantage of the poor to gain from their weakness.
The Christian’s perception of wealth and poverty is the opposite—the strong are to help the weak. The pagan perception of wealth and poverty assumes the strong have the right to gain at the expense of the weak. Pride then has led to oppression.
Jonah’s life is an example of this. As a Jew, Jonah believed he was better than the Gentiles. He neither wanted nor needed grace; indeed, he despised it. Nor did he want the Ninevites to experience the grace of God. Jonah did all he could to hinder the salvation of these heathens and even desired to watch them perish. The pride of the self-righteous always reject grace and charity.
The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day were proud and self-righteous. Like Nebuchadnezzar, they regarded their position, power, and prestige as a reward for their superiority. The poverty and affliction of others was regarded as divine punishment for their sins. The pride of those in positions of power led to oppression, and later our Lord accused the scribes and Pharisees of “stealing widow’s houses” (Matthew 23:14).
If Nebuchadnezzar was to be “saved” from divine chastening, he must recognize that his position and power were not a reward for his merits, but a gift of divine grace. He must cease using his power to further his personal “kingdom” and begin using his position and power to benefit the weak and the oppressed. This would be true repentance, and it might prolong his prosperity.
Nebuchadnezzar Put Out to Pasture
28 “All this happened to Nebuchadnezzar the king. 29 Twelve months later he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon. 30 The king reflected and said, ‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?’ 31 “While the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, 32 and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whomever He wishes.’ 33 “Immediately the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.”
Note the difference here and what is described in Daniel 2. In chapter 2, after Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar his dream and its interpretation, the king honored and promoted Daniel. Here we find no expression of appreciation from the king, nor a promotion or advancement of Daniel. From the silence of the text, the king only politely thanked Daniel at best, choosing not to take his interpretation seriously. The dream itself seems to have had no great impact on the king’s attitude or actions.
An entire year passes in silence. Twelve months later, the warning of this dream seems entirely forgotten. The king, in his palace enjoying the fruits of his power and prosperity, looks about him and sees only the splendor of the works of his own hands. It seems to be only in his own reasonings that the king revelled in the glory of this kingdom as the result of his greatness:
‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?’ (verse 30).
The thought had no more than passed through his mind when the announcement of the commencement of his humiliation came to the king. His sovereignty was to be removed. His sanity was to be taken away. He who thought himself better than other men was now to be considered unworthy to dwell among men. Henceforth, he would dwell among the cattle, eating grass like the beast of the field. This would take place for seven years, until that time when the king recognized the sovereignty of God over men and kings and kingdoms, and his sanity returned.
Immediately, the pronouncement was fulfilled. In one brief verse, the king’s humiliation is described, showing that the dream and its interpretation were precisely fulfilled. Daniel summarizes in one verse what our morbid curiosity would have taken chapters to describe. There is never edification in muddling in man’s sin and depravity. How high this king had come in power and glory; how low he fell in humiliation and dishonor.
Nebuchadnezzar’s Praise and Promotion
34 “But at the end of that period I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 and all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What hast Thou done?’ 36 “At that time my reason returned to me. and my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom, and my counselors and my nobles began seeking me out; so I was reestablished in my sovereignty, and surpassing greatness was added to me. 37 Now I Nebuchad-nezzar praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.”
At the end of the appointed time, the king did the only thing he, in his beastly state, could do. He merely lifted his eyes toward heaven. It was his way of acknowledging that God in Heaven is sovereign, and that He reigns over the affairs of men and of nations. His sanity returned, and then with his whole heart and mind he worshipped the Most High God. Unlike mortal men, God lives forever. His kingdom, unlike the passing kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar, endures from generation to generation. Nebuchadnezzar was acknowledging in every possible way the infinite superiority and supremacy of God. Unlike the king of Babylon, God is able to act according to His will, in heaven and on earth. In His sight, those who inhabit the earth are as nothing. How paltry and pathetic the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar now appears in contrast to the glorious kingdom of the eternal, all-wise and all-powerful God.
Nebuchadnezzar’s repentance brought about his restoration. Not only did he regain his sanity, he regained his kingdom. He was sought out by his counselors and nobles. His power and greatness increased above that he possessed before his downfall. His final words are those of testimony and worship, addressed to the King of heaven, praising Him for His truth, His ways, His justice and compassion in the lives of mortal men.
This lesson was a very personal and private intervention of God in the life of king Nebuchadnezzar, bringing him to his knees first in humiliation and then in praise. But it is a lesson for all, and thus the king makes his testimony a matter of public record, even though it does not flatter him. What lessons can we learn from this text? Along with your own thoughts, consider these:
(1) Pride is a form of insanity. Nebuchadnezzar’s experience highlights and illustrates an important principle in the relationship between pride and insanity. Pride is actually a form of insanity. Insanity is a condition in which one loses touch with reality, living in an unreal world. Sanity is seeing things as they are and then living appropriately.
I believe our text indicates that Nebuchadnezzar’s pride was insane. His chastening allowed his insanity to ripen and come into full bloom. Holding too high an opinion of oneself and lightly regarding the glory of God is insane. When one fails to live up to his or her capacity and calling as created by God, we are no better than the beasts of the field. The king’s sin made a beast of him. And so does all sin in each of us (see Psalm 73:22; Romans 1:18-32).
(2) Worship is man’s highest calling, setting him apart from the beasts of the field and giving him the basis for sanity. If the king’s self-congratulations were the cause of his humiliation, his worship was the turning point for the return of his sanity and his restoration to power. Worship is man’s highest calling. It sets men apart from the beasts. Worship sees God for who He is and man for who he is, and thus life as it truly is. Worship is the foundation for sanity. When men failed to worship God, they began their fall and became no better and little different from the beasts (Romans 1:18-32). Worship turns men to God in humility, gratitude, and worship, based upon the wonder of His grace. Worship is the way to wisdom, because it humbles us and exalts God.
(3) Our worship is directly related to our witness. Daniel chapter 4 is actually king Nebuchadnezzar’s personal testimony. He endeavors to share with others what God has taught him. Witnessing should be to the praise and glory of God. It should be an act of worship. Whether those who hear our witness turn to faith in God, God has been publicly praised in and by our witness. Too many people share their faith only as a duty and not as a delight. Their witness is not the overflow of a grateful heart, done as to the Lord, but a painful duty. We should learn how to worship and witness from this Babylonian king.
(4) Salvation should not be separated from the sovereignty of God. Recently, growing debate has surfaced over the issue of “lordship salvation.” I do not wish to reopen the debate or to take sides with the major spokesmen. I do believe that salvation is by grace, apart from works. But I also believe that our passage teaches the importance of the lordship (sovereignty) of God to the doctrine of salvation. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty was king Nebuchadnezzar’s principle obstacle. In our fallen state, we are proud, arrogant, and self-sufficient. We neither want nor accept grace. Grace is that which is extended to the helpless and the needy. Pride admits no needs, and oppresses the needy.
When the king praised God for His sovereignty, he was restored to his sanity and power. I believe it was also at this time that he was saved. While the point of the passage is not the conversion of this king, I do not think we can avoid acknowledging the radical change in this man’s life. How can an unsaved man utter the praises which come from the lips of Nebuchadnezzar? How many unbelieving kings would share the testimony of their pride and subsequent downfall as Nebuchadnezzar has done? This man seems to have come to faith in God through the events of chapter 4, and the crucial issue seems to be the sovereignty of God.
How then can we think that the sovereignty of God is not vital to evangelism and the conversion of the lost? Is the sovereignty of God something of such minor import that it can be put off until a later time, after the unbeliever has come to faith? I think not. The fall of man occurred because men failed to acknowledge and abide by the authority of God. The crucial issue which divided Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders was His authority. One cannot knowingly reject the sovereignty of God and come to Him for salvation. To come to Jesus for salvation is to come to Him as Lord. Those who have rejected Him in life will, before the throne, acknowledge Him as Lord. Jesus is Lord! Salvation is based upon this vital truth, for the Lord is the one who died and rose again, for our deliverance. The One who has all power is the One who has the power to save men from their sins.
(5) Authority is not a position of status but a place of service. There has always been an unbiblical, ungodly view of power. Jesus referred to this mindset as typical of the Gentiles. Unfortunately, it also characterized the Jews, and even the disciples of our Lord:
35 And James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Him, saying to Him, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” 36 And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” 37 And they said to Him, “Grant that we may sit in Your glory, one on Your right, and one on Your left.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. 40 “But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 And hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant toward James and John. 42 And calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. 43 But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:35-45).
The Gentiles view power and authority as the basis for being served. Men seek to rise to positions of power and authority so that others under them might serve them. So it was with Nebuchadnezzar. But God places men in authority so that they may serve those under them. Leadership is not characterized by status but by service and self-sacrifice. Our Lord exercised authority in this way, and it should be the way of his followers:
1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow-elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock, 4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE. 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time … (1 Peter 5:1-6)
Power is a gift of grace, not a reward for merit. It is given to make men strong so they may serve the weak. Power is never given to bolster the ego of one who is divinely strengthened or enabled. These truths apply to those in leadership, but also to every Christian. Every Christian is divinely empowered with a spiritual gift or gifts to serve others, ultimately serving our Lord. None should be prideful and glory in his gift because of the abilities God has given. Rather, we should be grateful, humble, and alert for opportunities to use our strengths to minister to those who are weak.
(6) The lesson God had for Nebuchadnezzar also applied to the Jews. God raised up Nebuchadnezzar to power and position. God gave king Jehoiakim and the other captive kings into Nebuchadnezzar’s hands (see Daniel 1:1). Nebuchadnezzar was successful and rose to power by the grace of God, not due to his own merit (see Daniel 4:17). When he became proud and took credit for divine grace, God humbled him—not to destroy him but to deliver him, to make of him a humble and grateful worshipper. Humiliation was ultimately God means of exalting the king. What appeared to be his destruction became the means of his deliverance. To be restored, the king must repent, acknowledge the sovereignty of God, and demonstrate his repentance by showing forth righteousness in being merciful to the poor.
Nebuchadnezzar’s rise and fall almost exactly mirrors the rise, fall, and restoration of the nation Israel. Israel was not chosen because of her greatness or potential. She was chosen in spite of her weakness and insignificance, to serve God and bring glory to Him. When God made this people a great nation in Egypt and was about to bring them into the blessings of Canaan, He warned them of the danger of pride, cautioning them about taking credit for His grace (see Deuteronomy 6-8). He warned them of His chastening if they failed to obey His laws, to worship Him alone, and to care for the poor and the oppressed (see Deuteronomy 28).
Israel failed to heed these warnings and those of later prophets, just as Nebuchadnezzar failed to heed the warning of his dream from Daniel. And so this nation was humbled by defeat and captivity. This nation, which was to exercise authority in the name of God, was removed from authority. They were scattered among the nations, as Nebuchadnezzar was put among the beasts of the field. Just as Nebuchadnezzar was delivered by acknowledging God’s sovereignty and grace, and by worshipping Him, so the Israelites would be delivered and restored.
The story of Nebuchadnezzar’s elevation, humiliation, and restoration should have given hope to the nation Israel, for just as he was put down and later restored, so would they be. The restoration of this Gentile king was recorded to give hope to the humbled, captives of Judah, who would also be restored to their position of leadership in God’s economy.
(7) Sooner or later, all mankind will be humbled before God and acknowledge His sovereignty. Nebuchadnezzar bowed before God after seven years of humiliation. He became a worshipper of the One true God. He will continue to worship and serve God for all eternity. What Nebuchadnezzar did many years ago, every man and woman will do in the future. All mankind will acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. Some Jews and Gentiles will do so by professing faith in Him as Savior and Lord:
34 “For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, 35 UNTIL I MAKE THINE ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR THY FEET” ‘ 36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:34-36).
8 But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART” — that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10 for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation, 11 For the Scriptures says, “WHOEVER WILL CALL UPON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” (Romans 10:8-11).
After death, those who reject Jesus as Savior and Lord will not be given another chance to choose Him as Savior. But they will be required to acknowledge Him as LORD:
5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).
I must now ask you the most important question you will ever answer: “What have you done with Jesus Christ?” Have you trusted in Him as Savior and Lord? I am not speaking about mere intellectual assent. Years before the events of Daniel chapter 4 Nebuchadnezzar had recognized the wisdom and the power of the God of Israel. But he had not placed his trust in Him. I am not asking if you know about God. I am asking if you have come personally to trust in Him, to love Him, and to worship Him. Your response to the Lord Jesus Christ is the most important issue of your life.
Questions and Answers
(1) How does chapter 4 of Daniel fit into the context of the book?
Chapters 1-4 of Daniel all take place during the reign of king Nebuchadnezzar. In chapter 1, Nebuchadnezzar is the king who defeated Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and who took captives back to Babylon, including Daniel and his three friends. While the king did not seem to be aware of the faith of Daniel and his friends, he did recognize the superior wisdom God had given them, and thus he appointed them as his advisors. In chapter 2, through Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar came to understand the superiority of the God of the Jews as the God who knows the future and reveals future events to men. In chapter 3, through Daniel’s three friends, Nebuchadnezzar came to understand that the God of the Jews is able to deliver His people from the hands of those who would seek to destroy them. Now, in chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar not only learns about God, but he seems to come to know God personally, through his dream and its fulfillment. In chapter 5, we leave king Nebuchadnezzar and move to the times of king Belshazzar. Thus, chapter 4 is the conclusion to the narrative of God’s working in the life of king Nebuchadnezzar.
(2) What is unique about this chapter?
Chapter 4 fits very nicely into the context of chapters 1-4, serving as the conclusion to the account of Nebuchadnezzar. But as one looks more carefully at chapter 4, it becomes evident that this chapter is a separate work included in the Book of Daniel. Chapter 4 is the personal testimony of king Nebuchadnezzar, who writes of his pride, his humiliation, and his restoration. The first and final sections of this chapter are written in the first person (“I”).
(3) Why did Nebuchadnezzar not call for Daniel first, rather than after all the other wise men? Why did Nebuchadnezzar refer to Daniel by his Babylonian name?
It would seem that the king had every confidence that Daniel would be able to interpret his dream (see verses 8 and 9). He may have delayed calling for Daniel because he preferred to give his own counselors first chance. It may also be that Nebuchadnezzar sensed that Daniel’s God would not be so easy on him as his own “gods” would have been. Daniel’s interpretation of the king’s first dream, recorded in Daniel 2, was not altogether flattering, for he told the king the days of his kingdom were numbered, and that the reign of the Gentile kings was to be cut off by the coming Messiah. Nebuchadnezzar’s reference to Daniel by his Babylonian name, and in terms of the “gods” more generally, may have been his conscious or unconscious effort to avoid any comparison between the God of Israel and the gods of the Babylonians. While the king had previously given testimony to the superiority of the God of Israel, he did not really prefer to do this. Far better that Daniel’s God be seen as one among the many (gods), than as the One who is God over all (Lord of lords), or so Nebuchadnezzar seems to have thought.
(4) For what evil was Nebuchadnezzar being chastened?
Nebuchadnezzar was being rebuked and exhorted concerning his attitude of pride and arrogance. He was also informed indirectly of his sin with regard to the poor. In his arrogance, Nebuchadnezzar seems to have been oppressing the poor, rather than protecting and providing for them. As the “tree” was to provide food and lodging for the birds and the beasts, so Nebuchadnezzar was to provide for his people, particularly for the poor.
(5) How was Nebuchadnezzar’s pride related to his oppression of the poor?
Pride takes the credit (glory) for that which we have not accomplished. Nebuchadnezzar took pride in his rise to power, in his mighty kingdom, and in his defeat of the Jews. All this was God-given, apart from any merit on the king’s part. The king thought his prosperity proved him to be better than others. He seems also to have concluded that the poverty of others proved them to be inferior. Thus, the powerful and prosperous begin to reason that they have the right to gain at the expense of the poor. One can use his strength to take from the weak. The Bible teaches the opposite. God makes men strong so that they can minister to the weak (see Romans 15:1-3; Ephesians 4:28). This same tendency of the strong to prey upon the weak is evident among the Jews (see Jeremiah 7:1-7; 22:13-23; Ezekiel 34:1-6; Matthew 23:14).
(6) How is Nebuchadnezzar’s discipline and restoration a lesson to the Jews and to every Christian?
Nebuchadnezzar was raised up to power and prosperity by God. Rather than give God the glory and use his power to serve others, Nebuchadnezzar became proud, arrogant, and an oppressor. God first warned him by means of his dream. Then God humbled Nebuchadnezzar for a time. All this was to bring the king to his senses, so that he would acknowledge, serve, and worship God.
Israel too was elevated to a position of power, preeminence, and prosperity by God. He made this insignificant people into a great nation, a nation through whom He would rule the earth. Israel became proud and arrogant, taking credit for the prominence and prosperity God had given them by grace. God warned His people of coming judgment through the law and the prophets. They, like Nebuchadnezzar, did not heed God’s warnings. Also, like Nebuchadnezzar, Israel would be humbled, stripped of her power, prominence, and prosperity. The Jews would be scattered and humbled, until they once again turned to their God in humility and in grateful worship. Just as the king’s humiliation was God-given, to bring him to faith, so Israel’s humiliation would turn their hearts to God, so that He might forgive and restore them to a place of blessing. Thus, the king’s humiliation, repentance, and restoration was intended to give hope to Israel, that, through their humiliation, they might be brought to repentance and restoration.
(7) What are the evidences that Nebuchadnezzar became a true believer in this chapter?
In Daniel 2 and 3, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged the greatness of Israel’s God, to reveal and to deliver His people. The king took steps to guarantee the Jews the freedom to worship their God without interference. In chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar himself becomes a worshipper of God. He moves from a kind of intellectual awareness of God’s character and attributes to a personal response to them, that of worship and of witness. No heathen could say the things which Nebuchadnezzar has said of God.
2 You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the dumb idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed” ; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:2-3).
(8) What is the relationship between salvation and the sovereignty of God?
The so-called “lordship salvation” controversy has become a heated and divisive debate. I wish to simply point out here that Nebuchadnezzar appears to have come to a personal faith in God in our text, and that the sovereignty of God seems to be the crucial issue. Up to this point, Nebuchadnezzar had been willing and able to acknowledge that God knows all and that He is all-powerful. Here, he confesses that He is Lord.
In Satan’s fall, Lucifer rebelled against God’s sovereignty. So too Adam and Eve rebelled against the authority of God in the Garden of Eden. When our Lord introduced and presented Himself as Israel’s Messiah, the crucial issue was that of His authority. When the apostles called upon men to be saved, they urged them to acknowledge Him as Lord. I do not see how anyone can turn to a God for salvation who is not Lord. And I do not see how the fall can be reversed apart from submission to the authority of God. Trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation delivers a death blow to pride, because it requires an acknowledgment of our sin and inability to save ourselves, and a confession that Jesus is both Lord and Savior.
Related Passages For Your Consideration
Psalm 1; 145:8-13
Isaiah 6; 10:15-19, 33-34; 11:1-5
Ezekiel 17; 31
49 There is, of course, a sense in which Daniel and his three friends are the central characters, which I would not dispute. But notice that while Nebuchadnezzar is prominent in every chapter (1-4), Daniel is not referred to in chapter 3, and his three friends are unnamed after chapter 3. Only Nebuchadnezzar is present in all four of the first chapters of Daniel.