It’s been a while since I’ve written about the book of Daniel. If you’re new to my blog you can read my thoughts on the first three chapters here.
Chapter 4 is definitely amazing because of its content, but what is even more amazing to me is who wrote it. Nebuchadnezzar writes (most of) this chapter in first person. While at first it may not seem like that big of a deal, remember who this man is. This is the ruler who was so anxious over his kingdom in chapter 2 that he was ready to execute his entire advisory staff for fear of a dream bearing a bad omen. This is the same person who threw a tantrum over three young Hebrews who wouldn’t bow down to the image he had set up. Now, in chapter 4, he is willingly broadcasting the story of his humiliation to his entire kingdom. He “thought it good to declare the signs and wonders [i.e. his own humbling] that the Most High God has worked for [him]” (v.2), praising the powerful God whose kingdom really does last forever. Folks, we are looking at a drastically changed man.
We find Nebuchadnezzar comfortably situated in his own palace when the Lord invades his life — again — in a dream. The dream makes him “afraid” and “troubled” (v. 5), much like the one he had in chapter 2. He sends for his astrologers and magicians like he did in chapter 2, and just like in chapter 2, they can’t make heads or tails out of his dream. Hmm. I detect a pattern here. You would think Nebuchadnezzar would have picked up on it as well and just sent for Daniel straight away… but I digress.
At any rate, Daniel eventually gets brought in to have a shot at the dream. Nebuchadnezzar relates it in full — he had seen a giant, beautiful tree, full of fruit and a home to many animals. A “watcher” from heaven declared that it should be chopped down and bound with a band of iron and bronze. But in midstride, the angel was no longer talking about the tree as an “it” but as a “he”, decreeing, “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” (4:15-16). My guess is that this is where Nebuchadnezzar started getting officially nervous.
Nebuchadnezzar finishes recounting the dream, confident that Daniel could interpret it. At this point, the no-longer-young Hebrew captive has had a flawless record. Daniel’s service was so extraordinary, so obviously anointed, that this pagan king could say, “…you are able, for the Spirit of the Holy God is in you” (4:18). Even this arrogant, powerful Gentile could tell that the Lord was with Daniel. Now that’s a testimony to a godly life.
Just as surprising as Nebuchadnezzar’s recognition of Daniel is Daniel’s reaction to the king’s dream. He “was astonished for a time, and his thoughts troubled him” (4:19). Nebuchadnezzar actually has to goad Daniel on to tell him the hard truth of what the dream means, because the prophet is just as bothered by it as the king was. I believe that Daniel’s declaration, “My lord, may the dream concern those who hate you” (4:19) is a sincere one. I think that over the years of service, Daniel has come to like Nebuchadnezzar. It seems that the two actually have a good rapport, which speaks volumes of the favor on Daniel’s life, but also of his character. I have to ask myself if I would be able to forgive the man who was responsible for my deportation and the downfall of my hometown. Daniel evidently was able to. Once again, I find myself provoked by his heart response in the middle of trying times.
After his initial hesitation, Daniel lays out the meaning of the dream. Any misgivings Nebuchadnezzar might have had were confirmed as Daniel interpreted. The great tree was Nebuchadnezzar himself. The council of heaven had determined that he should be “chopped down” for a time, just like a tree is cut down, leaving its stump. Yet he was to be “bound with a band of iron and bronze” (v. 23) — this was actually a protective measure which would prevent the stump from splitting, allowing it to eventually grow again. Nebuchadnezzar’s cutting down would mean he would graze with the beasts of the field for seven “times” (it is not entirely clear what a “time” means here, but it was probably weeks or months, if not years). After that, he would come to realize that God truly is sovereign over the kingdoms of men, and only then would his kingdom be restored to him.
Daniel’s advice to Nebuchadnezzar is just as striking as the rest of the chapter. “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” (v. 27). Being righteous is, of course, always a good idea. But think of all the things Daniel could have highlighted to Nebuchadnezzar for specific action. He could have said, “Melt down every idol in Babylon,” or “Let the Jews return to Jerusalem,” or “Begin following the Kosher laws” or “Stop practicing sorcery.” But he didn’t give mention to those, or any of the other thousands of ways Babylon needed to remedy her ungodliness. Instead, he pointed to one offense in particular: Nebuchadnezzar’s treatment of the poor.
Babylon treated the poor much like any other ancient Gentile nation. They were disposable workers, people too desperate to say no to being extorted. They were powerless in the face of a vast, rich empire that would readily put them to use but never care for them or view them with any sort of dignity. This is so diametrically opposite of the Lord’s heart that He was immensely grieved by it, and it was one of the primary charges He laid at Nebuchadnezzar’s door. (For more on God’s heart regarding treatment of the poor, see Isaiah 3:15, 10:1-2, 41:17, 58:7; Jer 2:34; Ezek 16:49, 18:12-13; Amos 2:6-7, 8:4-8; Zech 7:10 — just to name a few verses.)
Even so, Daniel did not say that Nebuchadnezzar had an easy ticket out of his mess. After exhorting the king to pursue rightouesness, he said “Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity.” The Lord was serious about His warning and Daniel knew that God would be unwaveringly just. He also knew that God is merciful, and so there was still a window of opportunity for Nebuchadnezzar to turn to the Lord and be saved. It’s the same tension as is seen in Joel 2:14 – “Who knows if He will turn and relent…?” Not that God is capricious, but that He is in the habit of showing remarkable mercy to the most broken repentant sinners. We do not see issues of forgiveness and justice half as clearly as He does and so our job is to rend our hearts before Him, and wait and see what He does, trusting Him to be perfectly righteous and unstintingly kind.
This post is already so long, and the rest of the chapter so good, that I will split it into a second part. Check back in a few days for the conclusion.
To be continued…