As we turn our attention to Daniel 4 let’s take a second and reestablish a little of what we know about King Nebuchadnezzar and his relationship with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah because it will help frame out the content of this really fascinating chapter.
In 605 BC Nebuchadnezzar’s father unexpectedly passes away forcing him to leave Judah in the midst of a siege in order to return to Babylon to officially take the throne. In order to punish the Jewish people for siding with the Egyptians, King Nebuchadnezzar takes captive an unspecified number of Hebrew young men with the intention they serve in his palace.
Nebuchadnezzar’s first interactions with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah came at the end of their three years of training when they were presented to be formally interviewed. Daniel 1:19-20 records, “The king interviewed them, and among them all none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they served before the king. And in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm.”
As Daniel and his friends begin their various roles within the king’s court, chapter 2 opens with King Nebuchadnezzar having a disturbing dream. While no one was able to meet his demand to provide the details of the dream along with the interpretation, God uses Daniel to articulate to Nebuchadnezzar some very important things about the future.
For our purposes this morning let me read for you Daniel’s lead in to the interpretation and then Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction afterwards… Daniel 2:26-28, “The king answered and said to Daniel, ‘Are you able to make known to me the dream which I have seen, and its interpretation?’ Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, ‘The secret which the king has demanded, the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, and the soothsayers cannot declare to the king. But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days.’”
Daniel 2:46-49, “Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face, prostrate before Daniel, and commanded that they should present an offering and incense to him. The king 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, gave him gifts, made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men.”
Between Daniel 2 and 3 approximately 15 years pass… With his enemies finally conquered, peace achieved, and his attention now focused on refortifying the capital city, chapter 3 opens with “the king making an image of gold” commemorating one of the many Babylonian gods to be displayed “in the plain of Dura.” A crowd is summoned and Nebuchadnezzar decides to use this great “image” as a test of loyalty.
As we read… When the people who’d gathered “heard the sound” of all the “music” playing in “symphony,” everyone was required to “fall down” and “worship the golden image.” The consequences for failing to do so was that you’d be thrown into a “fiery furnace!”
While everyone bowed, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego determined to stand! In the end, they refused to cow-tail to Nebuchadnezzar’s mandate and his warnings, ultimately finding themselves being cast alive into the fire. Daniel 3:23, “And these three men fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? … Look! I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.’
So Nebuchadnezzar went near the mouth of the burning fiery furnace and spoke, saying, ‘Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here.’ Then they came from the midst of the fire… Nebuchadnezzar declared, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God!
Therefore I decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this.’”
As you turn to Daniel 4 there are a few things to keep in mind. In spite of the fact King Nebuchadnezzar was a brutal and evil man, his exposure to the things of God is really astounding. First, he’s seen the power of God manifest through the righteous witness of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. Not only did these men refuse to eat the “king’s meat,” but they were willing to stand on conviction in the face of persecution.
Nebuchadnezzar knew these men were different, and while he didn’t fully understand why, he attributed their distinction to their relationship with God. To his credit, he deliberately promoted these four Hebrew men to powerful positions in his kingdom. In fact, the case can be made Daniel becomes his most influential and trusted counselor in all of Babylon.
Secondly, it’s amazing to think God had spoken directly to King Nebuchadnezzar. Back in chapter 2 Daniel testified, “There is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days.” Following the interpretation of his dream there is no question Nebuchadnezzar believed in the existence of the Hebrew God. In his response to Daniel, he actually goes so far as to acknowledge Jehovah was “the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets.”
Finally, Nebuchadnezzar had seen the supernatural presence of God for himself. As he peered into the fiery furnace, to his utter astonishment, he saw Jesus walking with these three men protecting them from the flames. In response, Nebuchadnezzar issues an official decree making it a death penalty for anyone to speak against the God of the Jews!
The important thing to remember as we transition into this fourth chapter is that Nebuchadnezzar believes God exists and has intentionally surrounded himself with men who testify. He’s heard God’s Word, witnessed His presence, and seen His power. And yet, in spite of these things, the king has not accepted the Jehovah God as his own, choosing instead to simply add Him to the myriad of Babylonian deities.
Let me quickly say knowing about God, believing He exists, hearing Him speak, watching Him work, and hanging out with people who represent Him well is absolutely no substitute for personally knowing Him! Nebuchadnezzar was a believer, but not a convert. In a Southern culture whereby most people associate as being Christian, please understand faith in God is never extended through associations.
When we get to Daniel 4, scholar’s believe roughly 30 years have transpired since the fiery furnace story. Daniel is now in his late-40’s or early-50’s and it’s about a year or so before Nebuchadnezzar passes away. What makes this chapter not only unique to Daniel but the entire Old Testament is that it was actually written by King Nebuchadnezzar.
Before we dive into the text, the backdrop is as important as the context… Though the business of the Empire was still being conducted, for seven years King Nebuchadnezzar had vanished from view. As the king of a global empire, it was odd he’d made zero public appearances! Then, out of the blue, one day Nebuchadnezzar reemerges and issues a formal declaration informing the public what happened during his long absence.
This chapter not only records for us the official proclamation, but I believe it documents Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion in his own words — a conversion that manifested in a very public profession to be read in every corner of the Babylonian Empire! The chapter is lengthy so we’re going to work through the text before closing with a few final thoughts.
Daniel 4:1-3, “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.”
Keep in mind this introductory statement is being written by Nebuchadnezzar AFTER the events of the last seven years. Right from the onset the king wants everyone to know the things that transpired — what he calls “signs and wonders” — had been the “work” of “the Most High God” in his life! This admission will take on a whole new level of meaning when you come to learn what God had actually done to Nebuchadnezzar.
It’s worth noting that Nebuchadnezzar uses the singular pronoun “His” four different times in his thesis: “How great are His signs, His wonders, His kingdom, His dominion.” What this implies is the king has moved from Polytheism (many deities) to a Monotheistic view of God.
Additionally, this statement “I thought it good to declare the signs and wonders that the Most High God has worked for me” in contrast to the king referring to the Lord as “the God of Daniel” lends the impression Nebuchadnezzar now has a personal relationship with “the Most High God.” Again, his use of the definite article “the” indicates the one and only God.
Furthermore, Nebuchadnezzar’s confession that “His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and His dominion from generation to generation” would have been a shock to those reading it. The fact Nebuchadnezzar, a king who’d conquered the known world, was publicly acknowledging “the Most High God” of the Hebrews possessed a “kingdom and dominion” greater than his own — was radically out of character for a man know for hubris.
Nebuchadnezzar goes on to tell the world his testimony in the first person… Daniel 4:4-5, “I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at rest in my house, and flourishing in my palace. And I saw a dream which made me afraid, and the thoughts on my bed and the visions of my head troubled me.” (Nebuchadnezzar is recounting the place he was at the point in his life when he received this second dream. “Seven years ago my life was full. Life was grand. And I was completely at peace, satisfied — UNTIL I received a dream that changed everything.”)
Daniel 4:6-7, “Therefore (on account of this troubling dream) 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 not that these men were unable to interpret the dream. It’s that they refused to “make known” to the king what the dream meant.)
I should add… It’s likely the reason Nebuchadnezzar “told them the dream” whereas back in Daniel 2 he requested they provide the dreams details as well as the interpretation is that he probably already had a good idea what the dream articulated! In many ways what Nebuchadnezzar is seeking was confirmation of what he already senses to be true.
Daniel 4:8, “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…” (Picture the scene… No one wants to tell Nebuchadnezzar the meaning of the dream because they fear how it’s going to land. Everyone is nervously standing around seeing who’d step forward when Daniel finally enters the throne room.)
Looking back on this critical moment in his life, Nebuchadnezzar is setting up the story in some interesting ways. Notice he says, “But at last Daniel came before me” adding “in him was the Spirit of the Holy God.” In recounting this scene years after the fact, he intentionally uses Daniel’s God-given Hebrew name and not “Belteshazzar” — the Babylonian name they’d given him. It’s worth noting this is the only time Nebuchadnezzar calls him “Daniel!”
With this in mind, Nebuchadnezzar also clarifies for an audience that would have only known “Daniel” as “Belteshazzar” that he’d been given this name “according to the name of my god.” The king is acknowledging that at this point in his life he was not yet a convert.
Daniel 4:9, “Belteshazzar (Nebuchadnezzar is recording what he said years before, which is why he uses Daniel’s Babylonian name), 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. (“Daniel, of all the people I know, I’m confident you’re going to give it to me straight.” Now he tells Daniel the dream…)
Daniel 4:10-12, “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.”
Remember back in chapter 2, in his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s first dream, Daniel said, “You, O king, are a king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory; and wherever the children of men dwell, or the beasts of the field and the birds of the heaven, He has given them into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all.” It’s not an accident similar images are being used in the second dream.
Daniel 4:13-18, “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. (Notice the use of the masculine pronounce “let him graze.”) 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. (The tree is a man.)
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.’ (The purpose.)
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.’”
Daniel 4:19-22, “Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonished for a time, and his thoughts troubled him. (The KJV translates “for a time” as “for an hour.” Knowing what the dream meant, Daniel just stood there in silence.) 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! (Basically, Daniel says, “I wish this dream wasn’t about you and was instead about your enemies.” Now the interpretation…)
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.
Daniel 4:23-25, “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 (the watchers) 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.
Daniel 4:26-27, “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. (During this season of judgment the kingdom will remain in tact.) Therefore, O king, let my advice be acceptable to you (Daniel now moves beyond the dream and its interpretation in order to give the king some wise counsel in light of these things); 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.”
Nebuchadnezzar was about to receive a severe and divinely orchestrated judgment for a very specific reason… God wanted him to know He and He alone “rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to whomever He chooses.” You see Nebuchadnezzar had built his own kingdom on earth. He thought he was in control. He was filled with pride and arrogance. Knowing what was coming, Daniel advises the king to repent.
Reminiscing about what came next Nebuchadnezzar continues… Daniel 4:28-33, “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 (these watchers) shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. They (watchers) shall make you eat grass like oxen; and seven times shall pass over you (a period of seven years), 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.”
What happens to Nebuchadnezzar is clear… He goes nuts! The mighty king of Babylon leaves the comforts of his palace, is “driven from men,” grazes in the field so that “his body was wet with the dew of heaven, eats grass like an oxen,” and over the course of time has “his hair” grow out “like the eagles’ feathers and his nails” become “like a bird’s claws.”
“You guys have been curious where I’ve been for seven years… If the rumors were true… If I was the one who flew over the cuckoo’s nest? Well, everything you heard was spot on! God warned me, gave me a year to repent, I refused, and was humbled in the process!”
While our passage tells us WHAT happened to King Nebuchadnezzar, the issue of controversy centers on causation. What caused him to go crazy and behave like he was a cow for seven years? While some point to an underlying physical or metal diagnosis, I’m of the opinion this was not a chemical imbalance or a metal psychosis, but something else.
In verse 13 Nebuchadnezzar recounts how he saw in his dream “a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven.” In verse 25 we then read how these beings (plural) “drove him from men” so that “his dwelling would be with the beasts of the field, and they would make him eat grass like oxen and wet him with the dew of heaven…” All in active tense.
In verses 16 and 17 we’re also told how “the decision” for “his heart to be changed from that of a man” to “the heart of a beast” was made “by the decree of these watchers, and the sentence by the word of the holy ones.” Without a question these “watchers” played a pivotal role in what happened by possessing a profound influence over Nebuchadnezzar’s behaviors. In fact, these watchers are able to “change his heart” or literally his spirit.
It’s my opinion what we have being described was not a mental disorder or some kind of psychological anomaly. Instead, the textual evidence presents for us a scenario whereby God, in His judgment of Nebuchadnezzar, allows fallen angels or demonic beings — these “watchers” — to spiritually possess the king. If you take into account the dark practices associated with the worship of the pagan Babylonian deities, this is all entirely possible.
On a related note… Anytime God is speaking to you, warning you of your pride, sending friends to encourage you to repent before it’s to late — and you still resist His Word, don’t be surprised when you loose it and start behaving like a beast in the process!
I should add God does place several very specific restrictions as to what these demons could and could not do. Aside from the fact this judgment would not remove the kingdom from him and was bookended by a set timeline, Nebuchadnezzar would be “chopped down” with “the stump and roots being left and bound with a band of iron and bronze.”
While God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to be tormented by demons and driven into the field to act like a cow for seven long years, his life would be preserved. The Jewish Talmud says that during this time period it was Daniel who actually cared for his friend.
Daniel 4:34, “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.”
Amazingly, the very moment the prescribed time had expired and King Nebuchadnezzar learned the intended lesson, we’re told he “lifted his eyes to heaven,” his “understanding returned,” and he immediately began to worship “the Most High who lives forever!”
Daniel 4:35-36, “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?’ (Nebuchadnezzar has come to see God for who He really was — a completely sovereign power.)
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. (The idea behind this repeated phrase “returned to me” is that Nebuchadnezzar was given back these things. Not only was God in total control, but he now views everything he has a being a gift!)
Daniel 4 verse 37 records the final words of King Nebuchadnezzar… Daniel 4:37, “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.”
In closing, let’s get into the real essence of this story… The most amazing thing about this chapter is the fact God wanted a relationship with Nebuchadnezzar! This man was wicked. He brutally killed the people he conquered. He was a tyrant — evil. You see if God wanted a relationship with Nebuchadnezzar there is literally no one beyond His love!
If you boil it all down, Nebuchadnezzar’s ultimate hang up centered upon himself. It wasn’t intellectual — as we’ve noted he knew God existed. His problem wasn’t exposure — He had friends in his life who testified. In fact, his problem wasn’t experiential — he knew firsthand God was active and powerful. For Nebuchadnezzar it would seem his hang up was practical. In light of the life he’d built for himself, Nebuchadnezzar didn’t believe he had any need for God. His success blinded him of his frailty and deeper need.
When considering the difference between pride and humility we often overcomplicate the simplistic. Humility is not being self-depreciating, but self-aware. A humble person has no disillusionment as to the nature of self. They’re honest with who they are. In contrast, pride is the opposite of self-awareness — It’s a warped and distorted view of oneself.
Originally found in Proverbs 3:34 but repeated again in 1 Peter 5:5 the Bible states, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” You see the fundamental baseline for God’s transformational work in a person’s life is the acknowledgement by the person they need such a transformational work! Apart from this there is no Gospel message!
The reason pride is so dangerous is that it’ll blind you of the reality of your need. It celebrates who you are while denying the need to be made into someone different. My friend, if you’re proud of who you are, you have no real need for the work Jesus offers!
For a proud Nebuchadnezzar to experience the fullness of the work God wanted to accomplish in his life, a humbling was required. In order for this haughty king to see God for who He was, he had to first see the truth of who he was! This is why Daniel encouraged his friend to repent — repentance is the confession of our brokenness, insufficiency, need.
In his pride Nebuchadnezzar looked around and boasted of the heaven he’d made for himself on earth. In order to work in his life, God had to first completely strip all of that away. And yet, once humbled and knowing there was nothing he’d done worth being proud about, Nebuchadnezzar immediately looked up and worshipped the King of heaven! Never forget… Only the wretch can truly sing of God’s amazing grace!
Humbling… Understand, when God intervenes in your life His intention is not your destruction, but to realign your perspective of self! As we’ve seen with King Neb humbling intends to be a reminder of who you truly are. You are not what you think you are. You are in need. The reason either repentance or a humbling is necessary in the life of the proud is that, in reminding who you are, God invites you to return to the place of His grace — A place where you matter not in the context of Him mattering most!
In the end, you know Nebuchadnezzar was a true convert because — he viewed the difficult journey necessary to bring him to the place of God’s grace — completely worth it. Seven years from the throne to a pasture was needed to humble this prideful man.
And yet, as Nebuchadnezzar looked back on the experience, he affirms, “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…” What a transformation indeed!
Nebuchadnezzar recognized his kingdom on earth was nothing compared to the kingdom of heaven. “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.”
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