The King has another troubling dream that leads to his downfall but only after his display of imperial hubris – Daniel 4:1-34.
In chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar had another dream, and as before, one that only Daniel could interpret. Yahweh would remove the king from power until he learned, once again, that the “Most-High God” alone is sovereign over the affairs of men. The chapter begins and ends with the Babylonian ruler acknowledging the sovereignty of Yahweh.
In the opening paragraph, the terms “great,” “kingdom,” and “dominion” are repeated from the preceding chapter. This prepares us for the concluding declaration by the king concerning the sovereignty of God over the kingdoms of the earth.
- (Daniel 4:1-3) – “Nebuchadnezzar the king, to all the peoples, races and tongues who are dwelling in all the earth: Let your prosperity abound! The signs and the wonders which the most-high God has wrought with me, it is pleasing before me to declare. His signs, how great! And his wonders, how mighty! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.”
The term “earth” occurs eight times in the chapter in reference to Nebuchadnezzar’s sovereignty. In contrast, “heaven” is applied sixteen times to the rulership of Yahweh. The king must learn that “heaven” alone rules over the earth – (Daniel 4:26).
Nebuchadnezzar began his discourse by recounting the dream that gave him great anxiety when he was “luxuriating” in his palace. This translates an Aramaic word for the “greening” of plants. It anticipates the representation of the king in the dream by the great tree that nourished all earthly creatures.
In his dream, the tree “grew great and its height reached to the heavens and its sight to the end of all the earth.” The same description is repeated in verses 20-22 and applied to Nebuchadnezzar, but the king attributed his greatness to his own majesty and not to the “Most-High God.”
As before, Nebuchadnezzar summoned all the “wise men” of Babylon to interpret his dream, the “scribes, enchanters, astrologers and soothsayers.” And as previously, none could do so except Daniel.
In the dream, the king saw a large tree in the center of the earth that grew until its height reached heaven. It was visible from the extremities of the earth. The animals of the earth were fed by its fruit and the birds of the air were sheltered and nourished in its branches – (Daniel 4:4-18).
Nebuchadnezzar saw a “holy watcher” descend from heaven. The figure commanded the removal of the tree so that nothing of it would remain visible above the ground. It was to be “cut down,” its branches “lopped off,” its leaves “stripped,” and its fruit “scattered across the earth.” Only the “tip of its root” would remain in the ground.
The “watcher” declared that the heart of the king would change from that of a man to a “beast” until “seven seasons passed over him.” The great tree would become a pitiful tethered animal dependent on others for nourishment, and through his downfall, “All the living would come to know that the Most-High rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to whomever he will and sets up over it the lowest of men.”
Once again, “set up” translates the same Aramaic verb used in Daniel 2:21 when the prophet declared that God “removes kings and sets up kings.” Likewise, the same verb for “removed” is used in both passages – (“Nebuchadnezzar, the kingdom is removed from you”).
The power of the heavenly decree was demonstrated when the ruler of the World-Power turned to Daniel for understanding. Through his God-given ability, the “lowly” Jewish exile exercised dominion over the Babylonian sovereign. Thus, he declared the removal and the restoration of political power to one who presumed to possess it through his own might, rather than acknowledge it as a gracious gift from the “God of Heaven.”
INTERPRETATION. The great tree represented Nebuchadnezzar. He had “become strong, his greatness reaches to the heavens, and his dominion to the ends of the earth.” The command of the “watcher” to cut down the tree was “the decree of the Most-High.” Men would drive him from society to live among wild animals for “seven seasons” until he comprehended that “the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of men and gives it to whomever he pleases.” Then his kingdom would be restored.
The term “seven seasons” is ambiguous and does not necessarily mean seven years. It could just as well refer to seven weeks or seven months. Nebuchadnezzar would be in this state until the divine pronouncement ran its course, however long that was. The dream was a warning to Nebuchadnezzar, one that all too soon he forgot.
A year passed, then “all this came upon Nebuchadnezzar.” At the very height of his power, he boasted of his majesty and achievements: “Is this not Babylon the Great that I built by the might of my power and for the dignity of my majesty?” A voice from Heaven responded:
- “O Nebuchadnezzar, the kingdom is removed from you…until you come to know that the Most High has dominion over the kingdom of men and gives it to whomever he pleases.”
His understanding departed and he was driven from society to live like an animal for “seven seasons.” However, after his mind was restored, Nebuchadnezzar looked to heaven and declared:
- “Blessed is the Most-High who lives forever! I praise and honor the One whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation. Before Him all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and according to his own pleasure He deals with the Host of Heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. There is none who can say to him, What have you done.”
History remembers Nebuchadnezzar as a great ruler and builder, as well as the conqueror of vast territories. He established an empire larger and mightier than any that preceded his realm. In Scripture, “Babylon” came to symbolize the World-Power set in opposition to God, humanity confident in its self-rule.
Nebuchadnezzar’s downfall and restoration is an object lesson in just how hollow such boasts are, even when made by the mightiest rulers on the earth. His fall demonstrates how decisively and quickly God can remove any ruler or regime to suit His purposes.
PARALLELS TO GENESIS 11:1-9. There are verbal parallels in the story with the incident at the Tower of Babel. For example, in the Genesis account, “all the earth was of one language” and came to “inhabit the plain of the land of Shinar.” The inhabitants set out to “build for us a city and a tower whose height reaches to the heavens and, thus, let us make for us a name lest we be scattered over the face of all the earth.” Then, Yahweh “came down” from heaven to see the city that men had built. When He pronounced judgment, He mockingly used the first-person plural – “Let us go down and confuse their speech.” Thus, He “scattered them over the face of all the earth, and so they left off building the city.”
Likewise, in Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar addressed a circular letter to “all the peoples, nations, and languages that inhabit all the earth.” In the dream, he was represented by a great tree whose “height reached unto the heavens.” He boasted, “Is this not Babylon the great that I built by the might of my power and for the honor of my majesty?” Like the great tree in his dream, his greatness “reached to the heavens and his dominion to the end of the earth.”
The “watcher” pronounced judgment using verbs in the first person, plural form, as did God in the Genesis account – “Let us” cut down the tree, destroy it, and leave the stump of its roots. The fruit of the tree would be “scattered” and the king was driven from among men until he understood that the “Most High has dominion over the kingdom of men, and to whomever, he pleases he gives it.”
At the end of the “seven seasons,” Nebuchadnezzar was restored to his right mind and his sovereignty was reconfirmed. He then extolled the “Most-High who does according to his will in the host of the heavens and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand or say to him, What are you doing?”
IN REVELATION. The passage from Daniel is echoed in the judgment pronouncement on end-time “Babylon” when the “kings of the earth” wailed over her demise:
- “Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city; for in one hour is your judgment come… and a strong angel took a great millstone and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus, with force will Babylon, the great city, be cast down and be found no more at all” – (Revelation 18:10-21).
From start to finish in Revelation, Ancient Babylon symbolizes the determination of human society to arrogate to itself self-rule in opposition to the sovereignty of the “God of Heaven,” the creator of all things. Likewise, the term “inhabitants of the earth” is derived from this story, which is then used repeatedly by Revelation to refer to humanity in its hostility to the “Lamb” and the “one who sits on the throne.”