In our study of Daniel chapter four, we look at how pride can turn a dream into a nightmare. We are reminded that pride is what brought about the rebellion of angels and the same thing can happen with men.
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King Nebuchadnezzar, To the peoples, nations and men of every language, who live in all the world: May you prosper greatly!
This chapter opens with a royal proclamation from the King of Babylon. This proclamation is different and the greeting would have made the people take notice. The king, in chapter 3, was full of pride and all about self but, as we see here, he is thinking of others in wishing them prosperity.
It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.
The king begins what we will see is his testimony of what God had done in his life. The people would have known that something had happened because this man had built a statue of himself and made people bow down and worship him as a god. Now, he is prepared to tell them of the real God.
How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation.
It is amazing that we see this man who had been so prideful now humbling himself in worship of God Almighty.
I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous. I had a dream that made me afraid. As I was lying in my bed, the images and visions that passed through my mind terrified me.
Now, the king begins to tell us what caused such a dramatic change in his attitude. It started with a dream that got his attention.
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.
As we saw in chapter two, the ungodly cannot interpret the things of God and so, when all the "wise men" were called in to the king they could not help him. This is the same lesson that many of us need to learn today as people are chasing after all kinds of wisdom but many are unwilling to go to the true source of wisdom which is God. Instead of seeking counsel from God's word, even Christians try the latest self help nonsense and psycho babble.
Finally, Daniel came into my presence and I told him the dream. (He is called Belteshazzar, after the name of my god, and the spirit of the holy gods is in him.)
It is interesting to note here that the king is still caught up in idolatry as he describes Daniel as having the "spirit of the holy gods". There are many today with this same type of attitude in that they want to say that we are all going the same place just taking different paths. As we shall see, that is still idolatry and it is detestable to God.
I said, 'Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you. Here is my dream; interpret it for me.'
We see that the king had made Daniel the chief of the magicians and so acknowledged the power of the God that Daniel served. But, he was still caught up in idolatry as God does not share His position with any other so-called gods. He has seen the power of God at work through Daniel but does not reject the false gods as he had looked to them first.
These are the visions I saw while lying in my bed: 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 beasts of the field found shelter, and the birds of the air lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.
So far, the vision seems to be a good thing as it is a giant tree that is providing food and shelter to all. It reminds me of the tree of life described in Revelation 22 where God provides for His people and the fact that Nebuchadnezzar was caught up in his pride and strength as he considered himself to also be a god.
'In the visions I saw while lying on my bed, I looked, and there before me was a messenger, a holy one, coming down from heaven. He 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."'
Now, we see the dream start to become a nightmare as it is decreed that the magnificent tree be cut down. Many times a tree is used as the symbol for a man in the Bible and Nebuchadnezzar must have thought of himself as this magnificent tree. It must have shocked him to here the angel say that it must be cut down. The good news is that they did not uproot the stump so there was the ability for the tree to grow again. We see that the stump was restrained from growth on its own by these bands. We, like Nebuchadnezzar, can become arrogant and see ourselves as a mighty tree but we must remember to worship the Creator of the tree and give Him the praise instead of becoming arrogant.
'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 pass by him.'
Now, we see that this man will be driven to act like an animal for seven years. Nebuchadnezzar may have still held out hope that it was speaking of someone else but deep inside he must have been horrified at the thought that it was speaking about 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 the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men."'
God explains the purpose of His actions which is so that men can understand that He is in charge of all creation. Part of that being in charge is the fact that He puts whoever He wants in positions of authority. Usually, these are not the most superior of men but they are there because of the will of God and for His purposes. This is true today as well in that God puts our political leaders in their place to fulfill His purpose and many times they are humbled by the fact that they are being used and cannot do it on their own.
'This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, 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.'
Once again, we see that the king tries all other options before turning to the man of God. He realizes that there is something special about Daniel but he still does not acknowledge the hand of the one true God. Like Daniel, many times people will know that we (Christians) are different. They will see the power of God displayed and still not acknowledge Him.
Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, 'Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.' Belteshazzar answered, 'My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries!'
Daniel must have immediately known the message behind the dream and he was worried about telling it to the king.
'The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the beasts of the field, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds of the air - you, O king, 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.'
We have all probably had someone tell us that they had good news and bad news for us and ask which we wanted to hear first. Here, Daniel gives the king the good news first which is the fact that the king has become as great as the tree of his dream.
'You, O king, saw a messenger, a holy one, 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 like the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him."'
Now, the bad news is that the tree is to be cut down. God is good and even with this bad news comes hope. We see that the roots of the tree are not removed but instead are only restrained by the iron and bronze. In this, we see that God is in control of all things and all things happen in His time.
'This is the interpretation, O king, 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 cattle 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 the kingdoms of men 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, O king, 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.'
The full meaning of the nightmare is made known as judgment is pronounced on King Nebuchadnezzar. Even in this judgment there is hope as Daniel pleads for the king to repent and acknowledge the hand of God at work in the lives of men. He even tells the king that it could possibly be avoided if he would repent immediately. We notice also that this is not simply reciting some words but is backed up by action. The same thing is true for us today in that genuine repentance will be accompanied by action and not simply saying some words.
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?'
The number twelve, throughout the Bible, is associated with the display of divine authority and here we see that twelve months after his vision the king is still denying God's power. The king still does not acknowledge the fact that God had him there. We may be quick to criticize the king but we must ask ourselves if we don't do the same thing sometimes. It is easy to forget to give the credit to God when He lifts us up and blesses us.
The words were still on his lips when 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 cattle. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men 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 cattle. His body was drenched wit the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.
As soon as he spoke this blasphemy, he was reminded of the judgment that had been promised and it was swiftly executed. I am sure that the king did not expect this swift judgment as he climbed up to the roof. In the same way, we walk around many days without remembering that Jesus could come back at any moment.
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?'
The events unfolded just as the dream had shown and, at the designated time, Nebuchadnezzar humbled himself and acknowledged God. As promised, his sanity was restored and this is a beautiful promise to each of us in that, if we humble ourselves and call on Jesus, He will restore our relationship with the Father.
At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisors 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.
Many things may seem to be given up when we come to faith in Christ but the biggest thing is pride. It was only after the king was humbled that he could see God at work. Likewise, it is only after our pride has been dealt with that we can see what Jesus did for us on the cross. Like the king, it may look like we have lost much more but God can restore more than we ever had just like he did for Nebuchadnezzar.