Daniel Chapter 4 - King Nebuchadnezzar Has a Fearful Dream!
King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that made him afraid. None of the wise men of Babylon could interpret the dream, so the king told his dream to Daniel.
To the nations and peoples of every language, who live in all the earth:
May you prosper greatly! Daniel 4:1
This entire chapter is written in Aramaic. The Aramaic language was the common language or lingua franca, used in Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian communication. It was the bridge language or trade language used to make communication possible between people who didn't share a native language or dialect.
It was expeditious that a letter addressed to all the nations and peoples of every language that composed King Nebuchadnezzar’s Empire would be written in Aramaic as opposed to having his letter translated into many languages and dialects. But the scope of his letter is meant to reach far beyond the borders of his empire to peoples and nations of all the earth.
It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.
How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation. Daniel 4:2-3
The purpose of Nebuchadnezzar’s proclamation is to tell the world of the mighty wonders that the Most High God who rules eternally had performed in the king’s behalf.
I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous. I had a dream that made me afraid. As I was lying in bed, the images and visions that passed through my mind terrified me. So I commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be brought before me to interpret the dream for me. When the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners came, I told them the dream, but they could not interpret it for me. Daniel 4:4-7
As in the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had a troubling dream. Once again, the wise men of Babylon were incapable of interpreting the king’s dream.
Finally, Daniel came into my presence and I told him the dream. (He is called Belteshazzar, after the name of my god, and the spirit of the holy gods is in him.)
I said, “Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you. Here is my dream; interpret it for me. Daniel 4:8-9
Daniel was trained in the language and traditions of the Chaldeans. He was made the leader of the Babylonian wise men. Daniel's abilities were from Yehovah and not from Babylonian magic.
In chapter two, after Daniel had given King Nebuchadnezzar the interpretation of his dream of an enormous, dazzling statue, the king proclaimed to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.” Yet, the king states that Daniel is called Belteshazzar, after the name of his god, Bel.
Marduk, in Mesopotamian religion was the chief god of the city of Babylon and the national god of Babylonia. He was eventually called simply Bel, or Lord. Originally, he seems to have been a god of thunderstorms but gradually came to be thought of as the god of order and destiny.
Clearly the king did not worship Daniel’s God. Since the Babylonians had many gods, the king attributed Daniel’s abilities to the spirit of the holy gods in him.
These are the visions I saw while lying in bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed. Daniel 4:10-12
The first part of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was of an impressive tree that was so large and its fruit so bountiful that it could shelter and feed all of the earth’s creatures.
“In the visions I saw while lying in bed, I looked, and there before me was a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven. He called in a loud voice: ‘Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. Daniel 4:13-14
The king’s dream then takes an awful turn. An angel is dispatched from heaven and announces that the tree is to be cut down and stripped bare.
But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze; remain in the ground, in the grass of the field. “‘Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him. Daniel 4:15-16
Finally the stump is not uprooted but bound with strong metals. The symbolism of the tree representing a man becomes evident when the angel declares, “‘Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him.”
“‘The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people.’ Daniel 4:17
When the king’s dream is interpreted and comes to pass, it will serve to demonstrate the sovereignty, authority and power of the Most High God.
“This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, tell me what it means, for none of the wise men in my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.” Daniel 4:18
King Nebuchadnezzar is confident that Daniel can once again do what none of the Babylonian wise men were capable of doing – interpret his dream.
Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.”
Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries! Daniel 4:18-19
Daniel alerts the king to be prepared for what he is about to hear because the interpretation of the dream directly concerns the king and it is quite unpleasant.
The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the wild animals, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds—Your Majesty, you are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth. Daniel 4:20-22
The first part of the dream symbolizes the king in his lofty position and the vastness and wealth of his empire.
“Your Majesty saw a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, while its roots remain in the ground. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven; let him live with the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him.’
“This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. Daniel 4:23-26
The Most High God’s decree was that King Nebuchadnezzar would live like a wild animal. The king was told by Daniel in chapter two that the God of heaven had given him dominion and power and might and glory. But prideful Nebuchadnezzar believed that he had become ruler over Babylon because of his own ability and wisdom and not because of the sovereignty of God.
Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.” Daniel 4:27
Nebuchadnezzar exalted himself, and in his self-centered pride, became a tyrant by oppressing the poor and weak. Although Daniel’s royal family was killed by the Babylonians during their siege and destruction of Jerusalem, and Daniel was taken captive by the king, Daniel is not vindictive but urges the king to repent of his sins.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; Matthew 5:43-45
Daniel not only loved the Most High God but even loved his captor.
All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel 4:28
All that was decreed to happen in the interpretation of his dream came to pass.
Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” Daniel 4:29-30
Babylon was built in the form of a square, 14 miles on each side, and of enormous magnitude. The brick wall was 56 miles long, 300 feet high, 25 feet thick with another wall 75 feet behind the first wall, and the wall descended 35 feet below the ground. It contained 250 towers that were 450 feet high. A wide and deep moat encircled the city.
Babylon’s vast double wall stood on both sides of the Euphrates River with 8 gates. The Ishtar Gate in the wall of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon was claimed by some to be greater than any of the listed Wonders of the Ancient World.
From the Ishtar Gate ran the Processional Way – a wide paved road flanked by walls decorated with glazed and gilded bricks showing lions and dragons, which led to the Temple of Marduk and the adjacent Tower of Babel ziggurat which reached to 300 feet high. There were 4 other temples, and west of the Ishtar Gate stood 2 palace complexes.
The Euphrates River also flowed through the middle of the city. It contained ferry boats and a 1/2 mile long bridge with drawbridges that closed at night
The famous “Hanging Gardens” (one of the wonders of the ancient world) received its water from the river by hydraulic pumps. The gardens were planted on top of a building and served both to beautify and to keep the building cool from the heat of summer. They probably were in view of Nebuchadnezzar’s palace.
Yes, Babylon was a great city that contained the king’s royal residence. The city of Babylon was regarded as the symbol of his power and majesty; and he spared no expense or effort to make it the most beautiful city of the world. If the construction of a great city, magnificent in size, architecture, parks, and armaments, was a proper basis for pride, Nebuchadnezzar was justified. What he had forgotten was that none of this would be possible apart from God’s sovereign will. The king’s prideful boasting was heard from above. He had not heeded the warning dream and one year later the decree pronounced on him was fulfilled.
Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.”
Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird. Daniel 4:31-33
Seven times will pass either is a reference to seven years or seven seasons. In Mesopotamia, the solar year was divided into two seasons, the “summer,” which included the barley harvest in the second half of May or in the beginning of June, and the “winter,” which roughly corresponded to today’s fall-winter. The decree lasted either seven years or three and a half years.
Pride and self-conceit are sins that beset so-called self-made successful men. They are likely to glorify themselves instead of honor and thank God. While the proud word was in the king's mouth, God pronounced His verdict. One minute the king was strutting on the roof of his palace boastfully like a peacock, and the next minute he became irrational and fell to all fours like a dumb ox.
Boanthropy means ox-man. Boanthropy is a rare psychological disorder in which a human believes himself or herself to be a bovine – a cow or an ox. They prefer to live outside, crawl on all fours, and eat grass or vegetables only.
The king’s body was drenched with the dew of heaven. The temperature range in this part of the world is 120 degrees in summer to below freezing in winter. One can imagine the physical stresses Nebuchadnezzar’s body endured as he lived outdoors the year round.
Logically it would have been Daniel, who the king had made ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men, who directed the affairs of the government until the king emerged from his insanity. It is probable that Nebuchadnezzar was hidden away from view and kept in the palace gardens.
At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.
His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” Daniel 4:34-35
During the duration of the decree, Nebuchadnezzar ate grass like an ox. As he crawled on all four, as the beasts do, his eyes were fixed upon the earth looking out for his food. But at the end of that time, he looked up to heaven and his sanity was restored.
“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6b
After his very humbling experience, the king praises and gives glory to the Most High who is sovereign over the affairs of men and of angels.
At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. Daniel 4:36-37
The king acknowledged that God did not deal unjustly or too severely with him. God does what is right and His ways are just. Not only was God just, but gracious towards the king by restoring him to his throne and making him even greater than he was before.
Nebuchadnezzar’s confession echoes what the great psalmist and former king of Israel penned when the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Psalm 51:4
As King David, being convinced of his sin poured out his soul to God in prayer for mercy and grace; so can anyone who turns to God in repentance receive forgiveness. Our Creator and Redeemer is not only righteous and just, but gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love.