04. The Most High Ruleth

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Verse 1 Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied unto you. 2 I thought it good to show the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward 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.

This chapter, says Adam Clarke, "is a regular decree, and is one of the most ancient on record; and no doubt was copied from the state papers of Babylon. Daniel has preserved it in the original language." [1]

The King Magnifies the True God. This decree of Nebuchadnezzar was promulgated in the usual way. He wised to make known, not to a few men only, but to all peoples, and nations, God's wonderful dealings with him. People are ever ready to tell what God has done form them in the way of benefits and blessings. We ought to be no less ready to tell what God has done for us in the way of humiliation and chastisements. Nebuchadnezzar set us a good example in this respect, as we shall see from the subsequent parts of this chapter. He frankly confessed the vanity and pride of his heart, and freely told the methods God used to humble him. With a genuine spirit of repentance and humiliation, he thought it good to show these things, that the sovereignty of God might be extolled and His name adored. Nebuchadnezzar no longer claimed immutability for his own kingdom, but made a full surrender to God, acknowledging His kingdom alone to be everlastings, and His dominion from generation to generation.

Verse 4 I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in mine house, and flourishing in my palace: 5 I saw a dream which made me afraid, and the thoughts upon my bed and the visions of my head troubled me. 6 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. 7 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. 8 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, 9 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. 10 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. 11 The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth: 12 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. 13 I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven. 14 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. 15 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. 16 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. 17 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 rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever He will, and sets up over it the basest of men. 18 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.

This part of the narrative opens with Nebuchadnezzar as a victor over his foes. He had accomplished successfully all his military enterprises. He had subdued Assyria, Phoenicia, Judea, Egypt, and Arabia. These great conquests probably betrayed him into vanity and self-confidence. At this very time, when he felt most secure, when it was most unlikely that anything would occur to disturb his selfcomplacent tranquility at this time God chose to trouble him with fears and forebodings.

The King Troubled by Another Dream. But what could strike fear to the heart of such a monarch as Nebuchadnezzar?

He had been a warrior from his youth. He had often faced the perils of battle, the terrors of slaughter and carnage, and in the midst of such scenes he had been unmoved. What could make him afraid now? No foe threatened, no hostile cloud was visible! His own thought and visions were used to teach him what nothing else could a salutary lesson of dependence and humility. He who had terrified others, but whom no other could terrify, was made a terror to himself.

A still greater humiliation than that narrated in the second chapter was brought upon the magicians. At that time they boasted that if they only knew the dream they could make known the interpretation. Upon this occasion Nebuchadnezzar distinctly remembered the dream and related it to them, but his magicians ignominiously failed him again. They could not make known the interpretation, and once again the king turned to the prophet of God.

The reign of Nebuchadnezzar is symbolized by a tree in the midst of the earth. Babylon, the city where Nebuchadnezzar reigned, was approximately in the center of the then-known world. The tree reached unto heaven, and the leaves thereof were fair. Its external glory and splendor were great. Its fruit was abundant, and it had food for all. The beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of heaven dwelt in its branches. What could more plainly and forcibly represent the fact that Nebuchadnezzar ruled his kingdom in such a way as to afford the fullest protection, support, and prosperity to all his subjects? When the order was given that this tree should be cut down, it was commanded that the stump should be left in the earth. It was to be protected with a band of iron and brass, that it might not decay, but that the source of future growth and greatness might be left.

The day is coming when the wicked shall be cut down, and no hope will be left them. No mercy will be mingled with their punishment. They shall be destroyed both root and branch. "Let seven times pass over him," was the decree. This simple expression is evidently to be understood literally. But how long a period is denoted by the words "seven times"? This may be determined by ascertaining how long Nebuchadnezzar, in fulfillment of this prediction, was driven out to have his dwelling with the beasts of the field. This, Josephus informs us, was seven years. [2] A "Time," here, then, denotes one year.

What an interest the holy ones, or angels, take in human affairs! They see, as mortals never can, how unseemly a thing is pride in the human heart. As ministers of God they cheerfully execute His decrees for the correction of evil. Man must know that he is not the architect of his own fortune, for there is One who rules in the kingdom of men on whom his dependence should be humbly placed. A man may be a successful monarch, but he should not pride himself upon that; for unless the Lord had permitted him to rule, he would never have reached this position of honor.

Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged the supremacy of the true God over the heathen oracles. He appealed to Daniel to solve the mystery. "Thou art able," he said; "for the spirit of the holy gods is in thee."

As remarked on Daniel 3:25, Nebuchadnezzar here again used his accustomed way of mentioning "gods" in the plural, though the Septuagint renders the phrase "the Holy Spirit of God is in thee."

Verse 19 Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonished for one hour, and his thoughts troubled him. The king spoke, 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 your enemies. 20 The tree that thou saw, which grew, and was strong, whose height reached unto the heaven, and the sight thereof to all the earth. 21 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. 22 It is thou, O king, that art grown and become strong: for thy greatness is grown, and reaches unto heaven, and thy dominion to the end of the earth. 23 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. 24 This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which is come upon my lord the king. 25 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 rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever He will. 26 And whereas they commanded to leave the stump of the tree roots; thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee, after that thou shall have known that the Heavens do rule. 27 Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity.

The hesitation of Daniel, who sat astonished for one hour, did not arise from any difficulty he had in interpreting the dream, but from the delicate matter of making known its meaning to the king. Daniel had received favor from the king nothing but favor, so far as we know and it wad hard for him to be the bearer of so terrible a threatening of judgement against him as was involved in this dream. The prophet was troubled to determine in what way he could best make it known. It seems the king had anticipated something of this kind, for he assured the prophet by telling him not to let the dream or the interpretation trouble him. It was as if he had said, Do not hesitate to make it known, whatever bearing it may have upon me.

Daniel Interprets the Dream. Thus assured, Daniel spoke with forceful and delicate language: "The dream be to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to your enemies." A calamity is set forth in this dream, which Daniel wished might come upon the king's enemies rather than upon him.

Nebuchadnezzar had given a minute statement of his dream, and as soon as Daniel informed him that the dream applied to him, it was evident that the king had pronounced his own sentence. The interpretation which follows is so plain that it needs no explanation. The threatened judgments were conditional. They were to teach the king "that the Heavens do rule," the word "heavens" here being put for God, the ruler of the heavens. Hence Daniel took occasion to give the king counsel in view of the threatened judgement. But he did not denounce him in a harsh and censorious spirit. Kindness and persuasion were the weapons he chose to wield: "Let my counsel be acceptable unto thee." In like manner the apostle Paul beseeches men to suffer the word of exhortation. (Hebrews 13:22.) If the king would break off his sins "by righteousness," and his iniquities "by showing mercy to the poor," it might result in a lengthening of his tranquillity, or, as the margin reads, "an healing of your error." By repentance he might even have averted the judgement the Lord designed to bring upon him.

Verse 28 All this came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar. 29 At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon. 30 The king spoke, 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 honor of my majesty? 31 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. 32 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 rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever He will. 33 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.

The King's Self-exaltation and Humiliation. Nebuchadnezzar failed to profit by the warning he had received, yet God bore with him twelve months longer before the blow fell. All that time he cherished pride in his heart, and at length it reached a climax beyond which God could not suffer it to pass. The king was walking in the palace, and as he looked forth upon the splendors of that wonder of the world, great Babylon, the beauty of kingdoms, he forgot the source of all his strength, and greatness, and exclaimed, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built?" Archaeologists have found the ruins of that ancient city, which Sir Frederic Kenyon describes in the following sentences:

"These confirmed the generally wrecked character of the site, but also revealed much as to its plan, architecture, and ornamentation. The buildings found were almost wholly the work of Nebuchadnezzar, who rebuilt the previous city most extensively, his own enormous palace ('this great Babylon that I have build for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power and for the honor of my majesty') being the most conspicuous building of all." [3]

The time had come for Nebuchadnezzar's humiliation. A voice from heaven again announced the threatened judgement, and divine providence proceeded immediately to execute it. His reason departed. No longer the pomp and glory of his great city charmed him. God with a touch of His finger took away his capability to appreciate and enjoy it. He forsook the dwellings of men, and sought a home and companionship among the beasts of the field.

Verse 34 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 honored Him that lives for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation: 35 and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing. And He does 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? 36 At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honor and brightness returned unto me; and my counselors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me. 37 Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and His ways judgment: and those that walk in pride He is able to abase.

Nebuchadnezzar Extols the "King of Heaven". At the end of seven years God removed the hand of affliction, and reason and understanding of the king returned to him. His first act was to bless the Most High. On this Matthew Henry makes the following appropriate remark: "Those may justly be reckoned void of understanding that do not bless and praise God; nor do men ever rightly use their reason till they begin to be religious, nor live as men till they live to the glory of God." [4]

His honor and brightness returned to him, his counselors sought him, and he was once more established in the kingdom. The promise was that the kingdom should be sure to him. (Verse 26.) During his insanity, his son Evil-Merodach is said to have reigned in his stead. Daniel's interpretation of the dream was doubtless well understood in the palace, and was probably more or less the subject of conversation. Hence the return of Nebuchadnezzar to his kingdom must have been anticipated, with interest. Why he was permitted to make his home in the open field in so forlorn a condition instead of being comfortably cared for by the attendants of the palace, we are not informed.

The affliction had its designed effect. The lesson of humility was learned. The king did not forget it with returning prosperity. He was ready to acknowledge that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever He will. He sent forth through all his realm a royal proclamation containing an acknowledgment of his pride, and a manifesto of praise and adoration to the King of heaven.

This is the last Scripture record we have of Nebuchadnezzar. This decree is dated 563 BC, in the Authorized Version, says Adam Clarke, [5] one year before Nebuchadnezzar's death, though some place the date of this decree seventeen years before his death. There is no record that the king ever lapsed again into idolatry. We may therefore conclude that he died a believer in the God of Israel.

Thus closed the life of this remarkable man. With all the temptations incident to his exalted position as king, may we not suppose that God saw in him honesty of heart, integrity, and purity of purpose, which he could use to the glory of His name? Hence His wonderful dealings with him, all of which seem to have been designed to wean him from his false religion, and attach him to the service of the true God. We have his dream of the great image, containing a valuable lesson for the people of all coming generations. We remember his experience with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in their refusal to worship his golden image, wherein he was again led to an acknowledgment of the supremacy of the true God. Finally, we have the wonderful incidents recorded in this chapter, showing the unceasing efforts of the Lord to bring Nebuchadnezzar to a full acknowledgment of the Creator. May we not hope that the most illustrious king of Babylon, the head of gold, may at last have part in that kingdom before which all earthly kingdoms shall become as chaff and the glory of which shall never fade?


[1]    Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. IV, p. 582 note on Daniel 4: 1.

[2]    See Flavius Josephus, "Antiquities of the Jews," book 10, chap. 10, sec. 6, Works of Flavius Josephus, p. 316.

[3]    Sir Frederic Kenyon, The Bible and Archaeology, p. 126.

[4]    Matthew Henry, Commentary, Vol. II, p. 965, note on Daniel 4: 34-37.

[5]    Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. IV, p. 585, note on Daniel 4: 37.




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