Daniel 4:1-37 . EDICT OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR CONTAINING HIS SECOND DREAM, RELATING TO HIMSELF.
Punished with insanity for his haughtiness, he sinks to the level of the beasts (illustrating Psalms 49:6 Psalms 49:12 ). The opposition between bestial and human life, set forth here, is a key to interpret the symbolism in the seventh chapter concerning the beasts and the Son of man. After his conquests, and his building in fifteen days a new palace, according to the heathen historian, ABYDENUS (268 B.C), whose account confirms Daniel, he ascended upon his palace roof ( Daniel 4:29 , Margin), whence he could see the surrounding city which he had built, and seized by some deity, he predicted the Persian conquest of Babylon, adding a prayer that the Persian leader might on his return be borne where there is no path of men, and where the wild beasts graze (language evidently derived by tradition from Daniel 4:32 Daniel 4:33 , though the application is different). In his insanity, his excited mind would naturally think of the coming conquest of Babylon by the Medo-Persians, already foretold to him in the second chapter.
1. Peace--the usual salutation in the East, shalom, whence "salaam." The primitive revelation of the fall, and man's alienation from God, made "peace" to be felt as the first and deepest want of man. The Orientals (as the East was the cradle of revelation) retained the word by tradition.
2. I thought it good--"It was seemly before me" ( Psalms 107:2-8 ).
signs--tokens significant of God's omnipotent agency. The plural is used, as it comprises the marvellous dream, the marvellous interpretation of it, and its marvellous issue.
6. It may seem strange that Daniel was not first summoned. But it was ordered by God's providence that he should be reserved to the last, in order that all mere human means should be proved vain, before God manifested His power through His servant; thus the haughty king was stripped of all fleshly confidences. The Chaldees were the king's recognized interpreters of dreams; whereas Daniel's interpretation of the one in Daniel 2:24-45 had been a peculiar case, and very many years before; nor had he been consulted on such matters since.
9. spirit of the holy gods--Nebuchadnezzar speaks as a heathen, who yet has imbibed some notions of the true God. Hence he speaks of "gods" in the plural but gives the epithet "holy," which applies to Jehovah alone, the heathen gods making no pretension to purity, even in the opinion of their votaries ( Deuteronomy 32:31 ; compare Isaiah 63:11 ). "I know" refers to his knowledge of Daniel's skill many years before ( Daniel 2:8 ); hence he calls him "master of the magicians."
troubleth--gives thee difficulty in explaining it.
10. tree--So the Assyrian is compared to a "cedar" ( Ezekiel 31:3 ; compare Ezekiel 17:24 ).
in the midst of the earth--denoting its conspicuous position as the center whence the imperial authority radiated in all directions.
12. beasts . . . shadow under it--implying that God's purpose in establishing empires in the world is that they may be as trees affording men "fruits" for "meat," and a "shadow" for "rest" (compare Lamentations 4:20 ). But the world powers abuse their trust for self; therefore Messiah comes to plant the tree of His gospel kingdom, which alone shall realize God's purpose ( Ezekiel 17:23 , Matthew 13:32 ). HERODOTUS [7.19] mentions a dream (probably suggested by the tradition of this dream of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel) which Xerxes had; namely, that he was crowned with olive, and that the branches of the olive filled the whole earth, but that afterwards the crown vanished from his head: signifying his uersal dominion soon to come to an end.
13. watcher and an holy one--rather, "even an holy one." Only one angel is intended, and he not one of the bad, but of the holy angels. Called a "watcher," because ever on the watch to execute God's will [JEROME], ( Psalms 103:20 Psalms 103:21 ). Compare as to their watchfulness, Revelation 4:8 , "full of eyes within . . . they rest not day and night." Also they watch good men committed to their charge ( Psalms 34:7 , Hebrews 1:14 ); and watch over the evil to record their sins, and at God's bidding at last punish them ( Jeremiah 4:16 Jeremiah 4:17 ), "watchers" applied to human instruments of God's vengeance. As to GOD ( Daniel 9:14 , Job 7:12 , 14:16 , Jeremiah 44:27 ). In a good sense ( Genesis 31:49 , Jeremiah 31:28 ). The idea of heavenly "watchers" under the supreme God (called in the Zendavesta of the Persian Zoroaster, Ormuzd) was founded on the primeval revelation as to evil angels having watched for an opportunity until they succeeded in tempting man to his ruin, and good angels ministering to God's servants (as Jacob, Genesis 28:15 , Genesis 32:1 Genesis 32:2 ). Compare the watching over Abraham for good, and over Sodom for wrath after long watching in vain for good men it it, for whose sake He would spare it, Genesis 18:23-33 ; and over Lot for good, Genesis 19:1-38 Daniel fitly puts in Nebuchadnezzar's mouth the expression, though not found elsewhere in Scripture, yet substantially sanctioned by it ( 2 Chronicles 16:9 , Proverbs 15:3 , Jeremiah 32:19 ), and natural to him according to Oriental modes of thought.
14. Hew down--( Matthew 3:10 , Luke 13:7 ). The holy ( Jude 1:14 ) one incites his fellow angels to God's appointed work (compare Revelation 14:15 Revelation 14:18 ).
beasts get away from under it--It shall no longer afford them shelter ( Ezekiel 31:12 ).
15. stump--The kingdom is still reserved secure for him at last, as a tree stump secured by a hoop of brass and iron from being split by the sun's heat, in the hope of its growing again ( Isaiah 11:1 ; compare Job 14:7-9 ). BARNES refers it to the chaining of the royal maniac.
16. heart--understanding ( Isaiah 6:10 ).
times--that is, "years" ( Daniel 12:7 ). "Seven" is the perfect number: a week of years: a complete revolution of time accompanying a complete revolution in his state of mind.
17. demand--that is, determination; namely, as to the change to which Nebuchadnezzar is to be doomed. A solemn council of the heavenly ones is supposed (compare Job 1:6 , 2:1 ), over which God presides supreme. His "decree" and "word" are therefore said to be theirs (compare Daniel 4:24 , "decree of the Most High"); "the decree of the watchers," "the word of the holy ones." For He has placed particular kingdoms under the administration of angelic beings, subject to Him ( Daniel 10:13 Daniel 10:20 , 12:1 ). The word "demand," in the second clause, expresses a distinct idea from the first clause. Not only as members of God's council ( Daniel 7:10 , 1 Kings 22:19 , Psalms 103:21 , Zechariah 1:10 ) do they subscribe to His "decree," but that decree is in answer to their prayers, wherein they demand that every mortal who tries to obscure the glory of God shall be humbled [CALVIN]. Angels are grieved when God's prerogative is in the least infringed. How awful to Nebuchadnezzar to know that angels plead against him for his pride, and that the decree has been passed in the high court of heaven for his humiliation in answer to angels' demands! The conceptions are moulded in a form peculiarly adapted to Nebuchadnezzar's modes of thought.
the living--not as distinguished from the dead, but from the inhabitants of heaven, who "know" that which the men of the world need to the taught ( Psalms 9:16 ); the ungodly confess there is a God, but would gladly confine Him to heaven. But, saith Daniel, God ruleth not merely there, but "in the kingdom of men."
basest--the lowest in condition ( 1 Samuel 2:8 , Luke 1:52 ). It is not one's talents, excellency, or noble birth, but God's will, which elevates to the throne. Nebuchadnezzar abased to the dunghill, and then restored, was to have in himself an experimental proof of this ( Daniel 4:37 ).
19. Daniel . . . Belteshazzar--The use of the Hebrew as well as the Chaldee name, so far from being an objection, as some have made it, is an undesigned mark of genuineness. In a proclamation to "all people," and one designed to honor the God of the Hebrews, Nebuchadnezzar would naturally use the Hebrew name (derived from El, "God," the name by which the prophet was best known among his countrymen), as well as the Gentile name by which he was known in the Chaldean empire.
astonied--overwhelmed with awe at the terrible import of the dream.
one hour--the original means often "a moment," or "short time," as in Daniel 3:6 Daniel 3:15 .
let not the dream . . . trouble thee--Many despots would have punished a prophet who dared to foretell his overthrow. Nebuchadnezzar assures Daniel he may freely speak out.
the dream be to them that hate thee--We are to desire the prosperity of those under whose authority God's providence has placed us ( Jeremiah 29:7 ). The wish here is not so much against others, as for the king: a common formula ( 2 Samuel 18:32 ). It is not the language of uncharitable hatred.
20. The tree is the king. The branches, the princes. The leaves, the soldiers. The fruits, the revenues. The shadow, the protection afforded to dependent states.
22. It is thou--He speaks pointedly, and without circumlocution ( 2 Samuel 12:7 ). While pitying the king, he uncompromisingly pronounces his sentence of punishment. Let ministers steer the mean between, on the one hand, fulminations against sinners under the pretext of zeal, without any symptom of compassion; and, on the other, flattery of sinners under the pretext of moderation.
to the end of the earth--( Jeremiah 27:6:8 ). To the Caspian, Euxine, and Atlantic seas.
24. decree of the Most High--What was termed in Daniel 4:17 by Nebuchadnezzar, "the decree of the watchers," is here more accurately termed by Daniel, "the decree of the Most High." They are but His ministers.
25. they shall drive thee--a Chaldee idiom for "thou shalt be driven." Hypochondriacal madness was his malady, which "drove" him under the fancy that he was a beast, to "dwell with the beasts"; Daniel 4:34 proves this, "mine understanding returned." The regency would leave him to roam in the large beast-abounding parks attached to the palace.
eat grass--that is, vegetables, or herbs in general ( Genesis 3:18 ).
they shall wet thee--that is, thou shalt be wet.
till thou know, &c.--( Psalms 83:17 Psalms 83:18 , Jeremiah 27:5 ).
26. thou shalt have known, &c.--a promise of spiritual grace to him, causing the judgment to humble, not harden, his heart.
heavens do rule--The plural is used, as addressed to Nebuchadnezzar, the head of an organized earthly kingdom, with various principalities under the supreme ruler. So "the kingdom of heaven" ( Matthew 4:17 ; Greek, "kingdom of the heavens") is a manifold organization, composed of various orders of angels, under the Most High ( Ephesians 1:20 Ephesians 1:21 , 3:10 , Colossians 1:16 ).
27. break off--as a galling yoke ( Genesis 27:40 ); sin is a heavy load ( Matthew 11:28 ). The Septuagint and Vulgate translate not so well, "redeem," which is made an argument for Rome's doctrine of the expiation of sins by meritorious works. Even translate it so, it can only mean; Repent and show the reality of thy repentance by works of justice and charity (compare Luke 11:41 ); so God will remit thy punishment. The trouble will be longer before it comes, or shorter when it does come. Compare the cases of Hezekiah, Isaiah 38:1-5 ; Nineveh, Jonah 3:5-10 , Jeremiah 18:7 Jeremiah 18:8 . The change is not in God, but in the sinner who repents. As the king who had provoked God's judgments by sin, so he might avert it by a return to righteousness (compare Psalms 41:1 Psalms 41:2 , Acts 8:22 ). Probably, like most Oriental despots, Nebuchadnezzar had oppressed the poor by forcing them to labor in his great public works without adequate remuneration.
if . . . lengthening of . . . tranquillity--if haply thy present prosperity shall be prolonged.
29. twelve months--This respite was granted to him to leave him without excuse. So the hundred twenty years granted before the flood ( Genesis 6:3 ). At the first announcement of the coming judgment he was alarmed, as Ahab ( 1 Kings 21:27 ), but did not thoroughly repent; so when judgment was not executed at once, he thought it would never come, and so returned to his former pride ( Ecclesiastes 8:11 ).
in the palace--rather, upon the (flat) palace roof, whence he could contemplate the splendor of Babylon. So the heathen historian, ABYDENUS, records. The palace roof was the scene of the fall of another king ( 2 Samuel 11:2 ). The outer wall of Nebuchadnezzar's new palace embraced six miles; there were two other embattled walls within, and a great tower, and three brazen gates.
30. Babylon, that I have built--HERODOTUS ascribes the building of Babylon to Semiramis and Nitocris, his informant under the Persian dynasty giving him the Assyrian and Persian account. BEROSUS and ABYDENUS give the Babylonian account, namely, that Nebuchadnezzar added much to the old city, built a splendid palace and city walls. HERODOTUS, the so-called "father of history," does not even mention Nebuchadnezzar. (Nitocris, to whom he attributes the beautifying of Babylon, seems to have been Nebuchadnezzar's wife). Hence infidels have doubted the Scripture account. But the latter is proved by thousands of bricks on the plain, the inscriptions of which have been deciphered, each marked "Nebuchadnezzar, the son of Nabopolassar." "Built," that is, restored and enlarged ( 2 Chronicles 11:5 2 Chronicles 11:6 ). It is curious, all the bricks have been found with the stamped face downwards. Scarcely a figure in stone, or tablet, has been dug out of the rubbish heaps of Babylon, whereas Nineveh abounds in them; fulfilling Jeremiah 51:37 , "Babylon shall become heaps." The "I" is emphatic, by which he puts himself in the place of God; so the "my . . . my." He impiously opposes his might to God's, as though God's threat, uttered a year before, could never come to pass. He would be more than man; God, therefore, justly, makes him less than man. An acting over again of the fall; Adam, once lord of the world and the very beasts ( Genesis 1:28 ; so Nebuchadnezzar Daniel 2:38 ), would be a god ( Genesis 3:5 ); therefore he must die like the beasts ( Psalms 82:6 , 49:12 ). The second Adam restores the forfeited inheritance ( Psalms 8:4-8 ).
31. While, &c.--in the very act of speaking, so that there could be no doubt as to the connection between the crime and the punishment. So Luke 12:19 Luke 12:20 .
O king . . . to thee it is spoken--Notwithstanding thy kingly power, to thee thy doom is now spoken, there is to be no further respite.
33. driven from men--as a maniac fancying himself a wild beast. It is possible, a conspiracy of his nobles may have co-operated towards his having been "driven" forth as an outcast.
hairs . . . eagles' feathers--matted together, as the hair-like, thick plumage of the ossifraga eagle. The "nails," by being left uncut for years, would become like "claws."
34. lifted up mine eyes unto heaven--whence the "voice" had issued ( Daniel 4:31 ) at the beginning of his visitation. Sudden mental derangement often has the effect of annihilating the whole interval, so that, when reason returns, the patient remembers only the event that immediately preceded his insanity. Nebuchadnezzar's looking up towards heaven was the first symptom of his "understanding" having "returned." Before, like the beasts, his eyes had been downward to the earth. Now, like Jonah's ( Jonah 2:1 Jonah 2:2 Jonah 2:4 ) out of the fish's belly, they are lifted up to heaven in prayer. He turns to Him that smiteth him ( Isaiah 9:13 ), with the faint glimmer of reason left to him, and owns God's justice in punishing him.
praised . . . him--Praise is a sure sign of a soul spiritually healed ( Psalms 116:12 Psalms 116:14 , Mark 5:15 Mark 5:18 Mark 5:19 ).
I . . . honoured him--implying that the cause of his chastisement was that he had before robbed God of His honor.
everlasting dominion--not temporary or mutable, as a human king's dominion.
35. all . . . as nothing--( Isaiah 40:15 Isaiah 40:17 ).
according to his will in . . . heaven--( Psalms 115:3 , 135:6 , Matthew 6:10 , Ephesians 1:11 ).
army--the heavenly hosts, angels and starry orbs (compare Isaiah 24:21 ).
none . . . stay his hand--literally, "strike His hand." Image from striking the hand of another, to check him in doing anything ( Isaiah 43:13 , 45:9 ).
What doest thou--( Job 9:12 , Romans 9:20 ).
36. An inscription in the East India Company's Museum is read as describing the period of Nebuchadnezzar's insanity [G. V. SMITH]. In the so-called standard inscription read by SIR H. RAWLINSON, Nebuchadnezzar relates that during four (?) years he ceased to lay out buildings, or to furnish with victims Merodach's altar, or to clear out the canals for irrigation. No other instance in the cuneiform inscriptions occurs of a king recording his own inaction.
my counsellors . . . sought unto me--desired to have me, as formerly, to be their head, wearied with the anarchy which prevailed in my absence (compare Note, conspiracy of the nobles is confirmed by this verse.
majesty was added--My authority was greater than ever before ( Job 42:12 , Proverbs 22:4 ; "added," Matthew 6:33 ).
37. praise . . . extol . . . honour--He heaps word on word, as if he cannot say enough in praise of God.
all whose works . . . truth . . . judgment--that is, are true and just ( Revelation 15:3 , 16:7 ). God has not dealt unjustly or too severely with me; whatever I have suffered, I deserved it all. It is a mark of true contrition to condemn one's self, and justify God ( Psalms 51:4 ).
those that walk in pride . . . abase--exemplified in me. He condemns himself before the whole world, in order to glorify God.