Daniel Chapter Four: The Great God, a humiliated King, and a Holy Watcher
In this chapter, an all-powerful king, Nebuchadnezzar, is met by The One and Only, All-Powerful God. Before we read the chapter, we can guess who wins the confrontation but the story is quite unusual. It’s one of the more bizarre stories you will find in the Bible. Daniel is once again interpreting a strange dream, this time instead of a large metal statue, the prophet interprets the meaning of a tree. The king, still adjusting to the superior interpretation skills of the prophet Daniel, is also learning more about the Mighty God the prophet serves.
Daniel’s insight far exceeds the other wise men in the kingdom and the Divine Person of whom he speaks is truly a God of Wonders. This latest episode in the life of the proud king is stunning and life-changing. After his dream is interpreted, the king goes through a mid-life crisis for the ages. God left a mark on him he would never forget. No man, woman, or child is beyond the reach of God, especially if there is a man or woman of God in that person’s life.
The Holy Watcher
That person in Nebuchadnezzar’s life was Daniel. Through the testimony of the wise prophet, the actions of a powerful God, and a mysterious decree from a council of Holy Watchers, the proud king was humiliated and tortured in mind until he came to recognize the greatness of God.
As I hinted at above, we also meet one of the more mysterious creatures in the scriptures. We read about a Watcher. These beings have been written and speculated about extensively. Many wild conclusions have been made, but God’s Word does give us some clues to direct our understanding.
The angelic realm
The Bible doesn’t fully explain what a Watcher is but its very likely they are a high-ranking angel with great power, authority, and access to God. In this story, we see that this Watcher, or high-ranking angel, is part of a council of some sort. This council apparently met and made a decision regarding Nebuchadnezzar. The idea that a council of angelic beings would meet, make some decisions, and act on them is contrary to our normal understanding of how God’s government works.
I will explore this subject more fully in later articles but for now, we’ll leave it a mystery so we can focus on Nebuchadnezzar.
The Proud King Nebuchadnezzar Met His Superior
Instead of a metal statue, as in chapter two, this time Nebuchadnezzar dreams about a tree.
Nebuchadnezzar the king, to all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you. I thought it good to declare the signs and wonders that the Most-High God has worked for me. How great are His signs, and how mighty His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion is from generation to generation.
Nebuchadnezzar the king:
The king didn’t truly rule over all nations and people on the earth. His kingdom and reign were so vast, he couldn’t imagine there was any match for his glory and greatness in all the world. To him, all the world’s inhabitants were his subjects. They depended on him for their sustenance, he imagined. Great power is a problem for any man or woman to weld. It never ends well. God had a good reason to humble this king and we see his plan unfold in this surprising chapter.
I thought it good to declare:
This chapter opens with the king already humbled. He is telling the story in the first-person point of view. It is a surprisingly frank confession of his humbling encounter with God and his wise prophet. He gives us just the details we need to understand his embarrassing humiliation and recovery.
His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom:
This is the king’s most important lesson in his recovery. God’s kingdom is everlasting, unlike the reign of human rulers, God rules forever. Nebuchadnezzar came to the understanding that he was only mortal. Even his own sanity was a gift of mercy from a merciful God. The Lord is the true King, and he reigns supreme on an eternal throne.
I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at rest in my house, and flourishing in my palace. I saw a dream which made me afraid, and the thoughts on my bed and the visions of my head troubled me. Therefore I issued a decree to bring in all the wise men of Babylon before me, that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream. Then the magicians, the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers came in, and I told them the dream; but they did not make known to me its interpretation.
But at last Daniel came before
me his name is Belteshazzar according to the name of my god, in him is the Spirit of the Holy God, and I told the dream before him, saying: “Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, because I know that the Spirit of the Holy God is in you, and no secret troubles you, explain to me the visions of my dream that I have seen, and its interpretation.”
I saw a dream which made me afraid:
The crown sat uneasily on this great king. Have you ever stressed over important responsibilities in a job? I sure have, as have many of us. Nebuchadnezzar, with all his authority, couldn’t escape his troubling thoughts when he laid down to sleep.
I told them the dream, but they did not make known to me its interpretation:
The setting is similar but some things are different from what we saw in Daniel 2. This time Nebuchadnezzar remembered the dream and told his wise men what he could recall. Unfortunately, they were just as puzzled as the last time.
At last Daniel came before me:
We would think they would call Daniel first but old habits are hard to break I guess. The way the story unfolds it becomes more clear that the efforts of supposed wise men and great kings fall short when confronted with humble men who listen to God.
His name is Belteshazzar, according to the name of my god:
Daniel was brought to the Babylonian kingdom as a young captive. They stole him away from his family, home, and country. They even gave him a Babylonian name. Throughout the Book of Daniel, he is called by both names depending on who is telling the story. In this case, the king refers to him by his pagan name.
The midlife crises: From bountiful tree to insane animal
These were the visions of my head while on my bed: I was looking, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. The tree grew and became strong; its height reached to the heavens, and it could be seen to the ends of all the earth. Its leaves were lovely, its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, the birds of the heavens dwelt in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it. I saw in the visions of my head while on my bed, and there was a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven. He cried aloud and said thus:
“Chop down the tree
and cut off its branches, strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the beasts get out from under it, and the birds from its branches. Nevertheless leave the stump and roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, in the tender grass of the field. Let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let him graze with the beasts on the grass of the earth. Let his heart be changed from that of a man, let him be given the heart of a beast, and let seven times pass over him. This decision is by the decree of the watchers, and the sentence by the word of the holy ones, in order that the living may know that the Most-High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whomever He will, and sets over it the lowest of men.”
A tree in the midst of the earth:
In his dream, the king saw a massive tree that provided food and shelter for all the animals that surrounded it. Beasts on the ground enjoyed shade and meat from the fruit. Birds found a place to nest and raise their bird families. At this point, the dream sounds like a wonderful nursery rhyme destined for a happy ending. Once Daniel gets involved we see there won’t be a happy ending.
He cried aloud and said thus:
The Watcher comes down from heaven and commands that the tree be chopped down. The Watcher is called a holy one. He isn’t divine or on a par with God. Holy means to be “set-apart” for God’s service. A cup or garment can be holy. In this story, the Watcher is set apart as a servant of God and brings the message of the divine council. “Chop it down.”
Let it be wet…Let him graze:
At this point in the dream, we begin to see the point. The tree or ” it,” will become a “he.” The “he” in the story will graze. The crazy dream begins to turn away from the tree to focus on an animal. Both the tree and the animal are allegories for king Nebuchadnezzar. The great tree that fed all flesh gets chopped down. The heart of the king would transform from that of a man’s to that of an animal. Nebuchadnezzar was about to go stark-raving mad and think he had become a wild beast.
Seven times, or years, will pass while the king lives in a pasture like an ox. Instead of sitting at a king’s table and feasting on the finest of foods, he will live in an open field and eat grass like a beast. He went crazy.
That the living may know that the Most-High rules in the kingdom of men:
The message to Nebuchadnezzar was clear. God gives power to whomever he wills. He can take it from them whenever he desires. God remains in control at all times despite what many might think, giving the power to rule nations to men of low esteem and leaving them with no reason to boast. God retains all the power, man depends upon Him, not the other way around.
At God’s decree, He can and will raise them up or bring them down. His purpose is so that all upon earth may know that the Most-High God rules among men.
The king turns to Daniel for the interpretation of the dream.
This dream I, King Nebuchadnezzar, have seen. Now you, Belteshazzar, declare its interpretation since all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known to me the interpretation; but you are able, for the Spirit of the Holy God is in you.
You are able, for the Spirit of the Holy God is in you:
Nebuchadnezzar had learned that Daniel was different than his other ‘wise men.’ He saw or sensed there was a spirit of God in him that wasn’t in all the others. As he learned in the dream of chapter two God allowed Daniel to see into the dreams and inner thoughts of the king.
Daniel explains the rise and coming fall of Nebuchadnezzar.
Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonished for a time, and his thoughts troubled him. So the king spoke, and said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its interpretation trouble you.” Belteshazzar answered and said, “My lord, may the dream concern those who hate you, and its interpretation concern your enemies! The tree that you saw, which grew and became strong, whose height reached to the heavens and which could be seen by all the earth, whose leaves were lovely and its fruit abundant, in which was food for all, under which the beasts of the field dwelt, and in whose branches the birds of the heaven had their home;
it is you, O king,
who have grown and become strong; for your greatness has grown and reaches to the heavens, and your dominion to the end of the earth. And inasmuch as the king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Chop down the tree and destroy it, but leave its stump and roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze in the tender grass of the field; let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let him graze with the beasts of the field, till seven times pass over him’; this is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most-High, which has come upon my lord the king:
They shall drive you from men,
your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make you eat grass like oxen. They shall wet you with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, till you know that the Most-High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses. And inasmuch as they gave the command to leave the stump and roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be assured to you, after you come to know that Heaven rules.”
His thoughts troubled him:
Daniel recognized right away what the dream meant. The Lord likely fed the insight to him as the king told the dream. The prophet was troubled by what he heard. As brutal and arrogant as the king was at times, Daniel grew to like him. Maybe he could see in him an openness toward the Lord that others could not.
Daniel wished the outcome would be for his enemies, not Nebuchadnezzar, whom he was growing fond of.
It is you, O king:
Daniel laid the hammer down on the king but he did so with a tender compassion for him. It’s you, God is talking about you! You are the tree, you are the animal, you will be stripped of your power and go crazy. Have a nice day. 🙂
We can only imagine what the king must have thought as Daniel relayed the meaning of the dream. When he got to the part about grazing on grass he must have waited for some deeper meaning to it. He likely never expected he, the great king, would actually end up grazing on grass in a field for seven years.
That would be crazy! Yep.
After you come to know that Heaven rules:
Nebuchadnezzar was about to get ‘schooled.’ God was going to teach him a lesson about who was really in control. The king could have avoided this humiliating episode if only he had humbled himself and recognized God as the Only Supreme Being. It really was an act of mercy that God made the effort to help the king understand this.
Therefore, O king, let my advice be acceptable to you; break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity.
Break off your sins:
Daniel had a suggestion for the king. Listen to the message, turn now if you want to avoid what is coming. Break off, or turn from your pride and sin. This lesson was for Nebuchadnezzar but it applies to everyone that has ever taken a breath. We all tend toward sin and pride, though we don’t reach the status of king. We still strut about with kingly pride and avoid the continued prodding of the Spirit of God when He reminds us to “Break off your sins.”
It’s the trait of all humans to cling to pride and love sin while we close our ears to God’s merciful guidance.
Crazy like a King
All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of the twelve months, he was walking about the royal palace of Babylon. The king spoke, saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?” While the word was still in the king’s mouth, a voice fell from heaven: “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you! And they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field.
They shall make you eat grass like oxen,
and seven times shall pass over you until you know that the Most-High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.” That very hour the word was fulfilled concerning Nebuchadnezzar; he was driven from men and ate grass like oxen; his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.
At the end of the twelve months:
God gave Nebuchadnezzar a year to change his mind. He must have thought often about the dream. Perhaps he hoped that Daniel was wrong. It seemed too far-fetched to believe he would end up eating grass in a field. Daniel had to be wrong…right?
Is not this great Babylon:
Babylon was truly one of the spectacular cities of the ancient world, which included the famous hanging gardens built by Nebuchadnezzar. The king was proud of all he had done. He took the credit for all of it. He saw no reason to give glory to any other than himself. That is what brought him down.
He spoke the prideful words, boasting out loud of what he had built. As he spoke, a chill must have spread deep into his bones as a voice thundered down from heaven. “The kingdom has departed from you!” Time is up. Your pride and your kingdom will fall, beginning now.
They shall drive you from men… eat grass like oxen:
The voice from heaven declared to Nebuchadnezzar what Daniel had interpreted from his dream. Daniel was right and the dream was about to be fulfilled. He would leave his throne and kingly table and turn to an open pasture to feed for seven years. He would live like an ox as God had revealed in the dream.
There is a form of insanity in which men think they are animals and imitate the behavior of that animal, just as described in this story. Some call it generally insania zoanthropica and more specifically in Nebuchadnezzar’s case, boanthropy, the delusion that one is an ox.
Nebuchadnezzar repented and his kingdom and sanity were restored
And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding 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 is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him,
“What have You done?”
At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my honor and splendor returned to me. My counselors and nobles resorted to me, I was restored to my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are the truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down.
At the end of the time:
Seven years passed, the appointed time which God had set, then Nebuchadnezzar broke free from his madness. It was then that he rightly turned his eyes to heaven and recognized his foolishness.
We should all be so lucky. God gave the foolish king a chance to turn from his pride, and he did. God offers the same chance to all of us but most don’t get the message. We don’t usually turn “oxen crazy” but there are numerous things that keep us from turning our pride over to God. We foolishly refuse the gentle promptings of the Spirit of God in our lives.
I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him:
Nebuchadnezzar could only see the truth about himself when he could understand the truth about God. The King finally saw who God was. Now, instead of boasting in himself, he boasted in the Most-High God. He fully regained his senses once this truth settled into his thick skull. There’s only One that is Great. It is the God of the Bible.
It’s the simplest thing for all of us to do, but the hardest thing also. God humbled the king who some consider one of the greatest of kings in history. Nebuchadnezzar realized he wasn’t as great as he thought he was. All of us need to come to the same conclusion.