There’s another episode in the Book of Daniel that doesn’t get as much attention. It too involves the outlandish fulfillment of a king’s dream. Once again, God reigns. ◊
King Nebuchadnezzar II, one of the greatest and longest reigning monarchs in Mesopotamia, ruled Babylon from 605-565 BC.
He is the conquering king in Chapter 1, the volatile king with the mystery dream of coming kingdoms in Chapter 2, and the worship-demanding king with a fiery furnace in Chapter 3.
We see a transformed king in Chapter 4. A transformation that moves him by chapter’s end from a polytheistic man to one who:
…praises the Most High; I honored and glorified Him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; His kingdom endures from generation to generation. (Daniel 4:34)
To get there, this king of Babylon at the peak of his power, has yet another dream that begs for interpretation. Once again, God equips Daniel to deliver the difficult news. The compelling dream comes true and King Nebuchanezzar survives to tell about it.
The King’s Second Dream?
The first half of Chapter 4 is told by Nebuchadnezzar himself. He starts by praising the Most High God:
“King Nebuchadnezzar, To the nations and peoples of every language, who live in all the earth: May you prosper greatly! 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. (4:1-3)
Then he describes the circumstances around his dream:
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. (4:4-7)
He finds Daniel to interpret his dream that begins with an enormous and fruitful tree:
Finally, Daniel came into my presence and I told him the dream…. ” Here is my dream; interpret it for me.”…
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. (4:8-12)
Then, in the dream, a Holy One from heaven, a messenger, delivers a disturbing message:
“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 [the Holy One] 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. 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 (years) 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.’ (4:13-17)
Now the king wants Daniel’s interpretation:
“This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, [Daniel] 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.” (4:18)
Daniel’s Interpretation of the King’s Dream
Then Daniel carefully relays the meaning of the dream:
…Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries! The tree you saw, which grew large and strong… 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.
“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 [years] pass by for him.’ (4:19-23)
And this is what is to happen, for seven years or “times”, until the king acknowledges the Most High God.1
“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. 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.” (4:24-28)
The Dream Fulfilled
Then all this did happen to the King. One year later this occurred as promised:
All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. 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?”
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. (4:28-33)
The King’s Repentance and Recovery
Then the king himself describes his own repentance and recovery:
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?” (4:34-35)
And the the king’s sanity was restored and he praises the King of heaven:
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. (4:36-37)
What’s Happening Here?
The ancient Jewish historian Josephus cited a report by the Bablylonian priest Berossus that Nebuchadnezzar died following a period of weakness.2 The Christian writer Eusebius preserved a tradition from the Greek historian Megasthenes (c. 200 BC) that Nebuchadnezzar, having ascended to the roof of his palace, became inspired by some god. (In antiquity insanity was looked upon as possession by a deity.) 3
Given what comes in the rest of the Book of Daniel, it is evident that God has sovereignty over man, rulers and nations. In this case, the most powerful person in the world is ultimately under the reign of God.
Do you believe God oversees rulers and nations?
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 4:37
1 The Handwring on the Wall, by James B. Jordan, American Vision, 2007, pp. 247-248. Note: the seven “times,” or periods of the illness could represent years, months, or various other units of time.
2 Nebuchadnezzar’s Madness, in Archaeological Study Bible, Zondervan, 2005, p. 1391.
3 Ibid. p. 1391
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