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Daniel 4:1-37 – The Proud Will Be Humbled


Nebuchadnezzar learns that the only enduring thing in this world is the reign of God; his power was derived from God, but he became awed by the pomp of power and mistook it as his own. The exiles could take comfort in the fact that God checks the pride of the powerful even when that power is not violently directed against the people of God. There is no need to be awed by the pomp of power; only God's power will be enduring.


[In the comments below the name Nebuchadnezzar will be used as in the biblical text, but there is much evidence to suggest that the tradition has confused Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidus. Nabonidus did withdraw from Babylon for several years to the desert oasis of Tema.]

Nebuchadnezzar learns that God's power is greater than the power of any human being, kings included. From the dream in Daniel 2 and the events of Daniel 3, the king should clearly have known of God's power. Nebuchadnezzar's opening testimony to the wonder of the Most High God comes close, with one key exception: he thought all of God's power existed to secure his own ease (4:1-4).

The king did not always use his power faithfully. While all people, beasts, and birds could benefit from his rule (compare 2:38 with 4:12), he often threatened, and even caused, death (2:13 and 3:6, 22). He used his power as if he were accountable to no one. His power was extensive, but he needed to learn that it was dependent on the giver-God-who can readily take power away. The king remains clueless even after receiving the dream. Daniel sensed the profound change that would need to take place in the king. Any change as profound as this would be unsettling to the empire, even though it was necessary. If the king had acknowledged that his power was given by God, he would have shown it by using it on behalf of the oppressed (4:27). The surest sign of the misuse of power is the lack of redress for wrongs done to the least powerful in a society. The tranquility or peace that the king longs for (or imagines for himself) must include justice for the weak. If not, its longevity will be short-lived as he found out.

The king's attitude toward God seems to have changed by 4:36, but one cannot be sure how much. In this verse, the first-person pronoun is frequent ("my" majesty and "my" kingdom). On the other hand, he does acknowledge God's power more here than he did earlier. He does say, "I was re-established" (4:36), rather than "I have built" (4:30). Whatever one decides about the depth or sincerity of Nebuchadnezzar's change, it will become clear that the next king, Belshazzar, did not take to heart the message given Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel 4 sets up Daniel 5.

Daniel 4:1-37

Nebuchadnezzar’s Second Dream

4*King Nebuchadnezzar to all peoples, nations, and languages that live throughout the earth: May you have abundant prosperity! 2The signs and wonders that the Most High God has worked for me I am pleased to recount.
3 How great are his signs,
   how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
   and his sovereignty is from generation to generation.

*I, Nebuchadnezzar, was living at ease in my home and prospering in my palace. 5I saw a dream that frightened me; my fantasies in bed and the visions of my head terrified me. 6So I made a decree that all the wise men of Babylon should be brought before me, in order that they might tell me the interpretation of the dream. 7Then the magicians, the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the diviners came in, and I told them the dream, but they could not tell me its interpretation. 8At last Daniel came in before me—he who was named Belteshazzar after the name of my god, and who is endowed with a spirit of the holy gods*—and I told him the dream: 9‘O Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that you are endowed with a spirit of the holy gods* and that no mystery is too difficult for you. Hear* the dream that I saw; tell me its interpretation.
10 *Upon my bed this is what I saw;
   there was a tree at the centre of the earth,
   and its height was great.
11 The tree grew great and strong,
   its top reached to heaven,
   and it was visible to the ends of the whole earth.
12 Its foliage was beautiful,
   its fruit abundant,
   and it provided food for all.
The animals of the field found shade under it,
   the birds of the air nested in its branches,
   and from it all living beings were fed.

13 ‘I continued looking, in the visions of my head as I lay in bed, and there was a holy watcher, coming down from heaven. 14He cried aloud and said:
“Cut down the tree and chop off its branches,
   strip off its foliage and scatter its fruit.
Let the animals flee from beneath it
   and the birds from its branches.
15 But leave its stump and roots in the ground,
   with a band of iron and bronze,
   in the tender grass of the field.
Let him be bathed with the dew of heaven,
   and let his lot be with the animals of the field
   in the grass of the earth.
16 Let his mind be changed from that of a human,
   and let the mind of an animal be given to him.
   And let seven times pass over him.
17 The sentence is rendered by decree of the watchers,
   the decision is given by order of the holy ones,
in order that all who live may know
   that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdom of mortals;
he gives it to whom he will
   and sets over it the lowliest of human beings.”

18 ‘This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, saw. Now you, Belteshazzar, declare the interpretation, since all the wise men of my kingdom are unable to tell me the interpretation. You are able, however, for you are endowed with a spirit of the holy gods.’*

Daniel Interprets the Second Dream

19 Then Daniel, who was called Belteshazzar, was severely distressed for a while. His thoughts terrified him. The king said, ‘Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or the interpretation terrify you.’ Belteshazzar answered, ‘My lord, may the dream be for those who hate you, and its interpretation for your enemies! 20The tree that you saw, which grew great and strong, so that its top reached to heaven and was visible to the end of the whole earth, 21whose foliage was beautiful and its fruit abundant, and which provided food for all, under which animals of the field lived, and in whose branches the birds of the air had nests— 22it is you, O king! You have grown great and strong. Your greatness has increased and reaches to heaven, and your sovereignty to the ends of the earth. 23And whereas the king saw a holy watcher coming down from heaven and saying, “Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave its stump and roots in the ground, with a band of iron and bronze, in the grass of the field; and let him be bathed with the dew of heaven, and let his lot be with the animals of the field, until seven times pass over him”— 24this is the interpretation, O king, and it is a decree of the Most High that has come upon my lord the king: 25You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the wild animals. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, you shall be bathed with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals, and gives it to whom he will. 26As it was commanded to leave the stump and roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be re-established for you from the time that you learn that Heaven is sovereign. 27Therefore, O king, may my counsel be acceptable to you: atone for* your sins with righteousness, and your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed, so that your prosperity may be prolonged.’

Nebuchadnezzar’s Humiliation

28 All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. 29At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30and the king said, ‘Is this not magnificent Babylon, which I have built as a royal capital by my mighty power and for my glorious majesty?’ 31While the words were still in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven: ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: The kingdom has departed from you! 32You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the animals of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals and gives it to whom he will.’ 33Immediately the sentence was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven away from human society, ate grass like oxen, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven, until his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails became like birds’ claws.

Nebuchadnezzar Praises God

34 When that period was over, I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me.
I blessed the Most High,
   and praised and honoured the one who lives for ever.
For his sovereignty is an everlasting sovereignty,
   and his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
35 All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
   and he does what he wills with the host of heaven
   and the inhabitants of the earth.
There is no one who can stay his hand
   or say to him, ‘What are you doing?’
36At that time my reason returned to me; and my majesty and splendour were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom. My counsellors and my lords sought me out, I was re-established over my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. 37Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honour the King of heaven,
for all his works are truth,
   and his ways are justice;
and he is able to bring low
   those who walk in pride.

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