We explore the fourth chapter of The Book of Daniel, and examine King Nebuchadnezzar’s response to Daniel’s interpretation of his dream. The King also has a second dream requiring interpretation. One of the most interesting figures in Scripture, King Nebuchadnezzar, learns a powerful lesson, humbles himself before God, and bears witness to His Sovereign guidance.
The Handwriting on the Wall
We’re going to cover, hopefully, Daniel chapters 4 and 5. Pretty familiar turf. It’ll be, perhaps, like visiting some old friends.
The main point I want to make is the context of why this is here, because remember Daniel is living in a foreign land. He’s a Jew, he was born in Israel, and he’s been deported by Nebuchadnezzar; and he was deported in a time period where everybody said, “Nobody’s ever going to conquer us! We have God on our side! We have the temple! As long as we have the temple, we’re safe!”
God sent the prophet Jeremiah, a contemporary of Daniel’s, to say, “No you’re not! God is God. He can do whatever he wants to. And what he’s going to do is he’s going to bring the Babylonians in to capture you if you don’t actually honor your treaty with them. But if you trust in Egypt, you’re going to get whacked.”
They don’t listen to Jeremiah, and they do trust in Egypt, and they get whacked. So now their whole bubble’s been burst of “I thought God was on our side! How can this happen?”
And the book of Daniel is telling you how it’s going to happen. And the point’s going to be made over and over again today.
Nebuchadnezzar’s responds to Daniel’s interpretation
When we ended chapter 2, in verse 46, we actually stopped with the historical overview before we finished the actual passage here. And this was before Daniel had interpreted the dream about how history is going to unfurl. And again, God is in control of history is the point there.
And it says, Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face, prostrate before Daniel, and commanded that they should present an offering and incense to him.
The king answered Daniel, and said, “Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, since you could reveal this secret.”
Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts; and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon.
Also Daniel petitioned the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego over the affairs of the province of Babylon; but Daniel sat in the gate of the king.
We see here Nebuchadnezzar who’s the king of kings, he’s head of gold in the statue, he actually bows prostrate before Daniel. There’s something in Nebuchadnezzar’s heart that’s different than Pharaoh’s heart, that’s different than most kings. He’s actually willing to humble himself. So there’s a seed there, but the seed had not sprouted yet.
So we go to chapter 4, and this is written by Nebuchadnezzar.
Nebuchadnezzar the king,
To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth:
Peace be multiplied to you.
So this is a letter from Nebuchadnezzar to all the peoples of the earth.
Apparently, since it says, “and languages,” this letter was translated into all the languages of the earth and sent out and read to the peoples. This is a little different than Paul’s letters. Paul wrote letters to the Corinthians, and he wrote letters to the Colossians, to his church, and then those letters were circulated, and then they made it into the Bible.
Well, this is the king, and he could actually impose that it be read to all the earth. And his letter is in the Bible. This could be set out and it could be the epistle of Nebuchadnezzar. This is his letter, and it is the holy word of God, which is really fascinating.
Verse 2. 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.
How could this happen to us?
There’s the point right there. Okay, you want to know how could this have happened to us? How could God do this to us? This is how. God is in control of the whole world. He’s in control of everyone. Nothing happens by accident. When you see something take place in the world, it’s because God either caused it or allowed it. God’s in control. It’s really clear.
Nebuchadnezzar’s second dream
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.
It’s interesting that he had this experience with Daniel, and he still goes through this same machination again where Daniel’s the last one in. I don’t really understand that. Maybe he’s slow of learning.
Is Nebuchadnezzar polytheistic?
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)
Here you have the first instance of what Nebuchadnezzar’s understanding is about God. He says, “My God—Belteshazzar is named after my god—but there’s this holy God. And we’re going to see that Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony is quite amazing. And it’s a gospel testimony. And he has submitted himself to the holy God.
One of the questions I had was, can he say I have my god but there’s a God over that God? Because that sounds like he has more than one God.
Let’s look at John 10:31. Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. So they’re going to stone Jesus again. Jesus answered them, “Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone me?”
Isn’t that a great question? Jesus was not a patsy, was he?
The Jews answered Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.”
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said,” You are gods”?
“If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken),
“do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?
And the quote that Jesus is making here is from a psalm. If you go look at that psalm, the gods there are men who are judges. Presumably it’s because when you take the office of a judge, you’re doing a god-like thing. You’re pronouncing life and death. You’re pronouncing freedom verses captivity. That’s God’s purview; and so you’re being a god.
So he said, “Why are you getting me? The Bible says you are gods.”
I don’t think it’s problematic that this culture that he has is still recognized. In fact, it would make him more relevant to the people of the world because that’s the way everybody thought.
Nebuchadnezzar’s second dream
So his point is, you’ve got all this stuff going on, but there’s a God that’s above everything and all things. And I’m telling you about that God. It’s really an amazing testimony.
He says, 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.
“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.
I’ll pause there for a minute. Who’s this watcher? The book of Enoch calls angels watchers. Daniel’s the only place that uses this term. I think this idea of angels as watchers is validated in the New Testament.
In 1 Peter 1:12 it says the angels long to look into things that were revealed to the prophets. And this term look into carries the notion of an archeologist studying an artifact.
So the angels are definitely watching us. They’re studying us to understand God because we can live by faith, and they can’t. So they’re studying us to understand that. So you’ve got a watcher who’s watching what’s going on on the earth. And he comes 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.’
God’s judgment is for your own good
What’s the point here? What is the lesson that they want Nebuchadnezzar to know? Well, there are heavenly beings here. In this case, this is actually initiated by the watchers, the angels, who are the ones who work for God, and they want Nebuchadnezzar to learn a lesson that the Most High is the one who put him in place.
Now remember who came in and captured Israel? Nebuchadnezzar did.
You can read the book of Habakkuk, and Habakkuk asks the question, “God, there’s injustice everywhere in Israel! Why aren’t you doing something?!” And God says, “I’m going to do something. It’s going to be astonishing. I’m going to bring in the Chaldeans. I’m going to clean out Israel, and all this injustice is going to be taken care of.”
And Habakkuk says, “Really? That’s justice? The Chaldeans are worse than what’s going on in Israel! How’s that justice?”
And God says, “Well, the righteous shall live by faith. The heart of the proud—I’m not going to deal with that. The heart of the humble is what I’m after.” It’s actually the theme verse of Romans. That’s the answer to Habakkuk’s question.
And in that episode, what we see is that God is a God who uses everything on the earth for his purposes. And here he has used Nebuchadnezzar to chastise Israel, and now he is interacting with Nebuchadnezzar as a man who he wants to know; because God wants to know all peoples.
Remember Jonah, you know Jonah’s like, “But if I tell them the gospel, they might repent, and then you won’t whack them.” God says, “Yeah. That’s kind of the point!”
He wants them to learn this lesson. And it’s the same lesson he wants Israel to know. You got whacked because I allowed it and I did it for your good.
So verse 19. 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.”
In other words, he could see this is not good news. And, we’ll read it in a second, but this king is an off-with-your-head king. He just says off with your head then your head comes off. So you don’t give bad news to King Nebuchadnezzar lightly.
He says, “You’re safe. Just tell me what it says. You’re okay.”
Daniel’s interpretation of the second dream
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.
Remember, he’s the head of gold in the statue, the greatest of the kingdoms.
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.
This is the same basic message as Revelation, isn’t it? In times of difficulty and hardship, the message to God’s people is, “I’ve got this under control. The only reason you see this terrible stuff happening is because I’m letting it happen, and I’ve got a purpose for it. So just trust me.”
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.
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.”
Now whose words are these? Nebuchadnezzar’s words. This is Nebuchadnezzar testifying of himself. I was warned to stop sinning! I was warned to get some righteousness, and I didn’t listen. Isn’t that amazing? This head of gold, this king of kings is humbling himself, not just before Belteshazzar because he got a cool dream interpretation. He’s humbling himself before all the peoples of the earth!
Verse 28. 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?”
This Hanging Garden of Babylon, amazing city of Babylon, it was an ancient wonder of the world. And it was so magnificent that even the architect didn’t get tired of it.
You know, when you build something, it’s usually pretty cool at first, but then it kind of wears on you, and you want something bigger and better. But not this. He’s walking around saying, “This is amazing! I did this! Aren’t I awesome?”
What God wanted to teach Nebuchadnezzar
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.”
You see what the message is? The Most High rules, and he chooses whoever he wants to to rule over the kingdom.
So here’s Nebuchadnezzar—Normally the kings are like, “I have a divine right. I’m here because I’m better than everybody else.” That’s the normal claim, right? Nebuchadnezzar: No, I’m here because the most high God put me here. It’s really quite amazing. The epistle of Nebuchadnezzar.
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.
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 truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down.
What a testimony, huh? I would have to say that Nebuchadnezzar has to be considered one of the great men of the Bible. It’s phenomenal! Here you’ve got this pagan king who gets a lesson and turns around and says, “I got it.” And then testifies to the whole world, his entire kingdom, with his letter that puts him in place. “I am under the Most High God. I had pride, and I got whacked down.”
Now what this seven times was? It was long enough to grow his hair like eagle’s feathers and his nails like bird claws. It could be seven months, I suppose. We actually have a son who’s done this, now that I think about it. His hair is a lot like eagles’ feathers. But I’m not sure how long it took him.
But it was seven periods of time. I don’t know that that is particularly important. You know the word seven means completion, has come to completion. So it was long enough. I think that’s the main point.