As we just now remarked, God speaks to Nebuchadnezzar here for the third time; again in a dream, as at first. This time, however, the king remembers the dream very well and only needs the interpretation, so Daniel is once more summoned for this purpose. On the previous occasion the Chaldean magicians claimed they would be able to interpret the king’s dream if they only knew it (2:7); interpreting it would be a cinch. But they were lying and stalling then, as this occasion brings out. This time they were told the dream and still they were helpless, unable to tell its meaning (vv. 1-7). God mocks the devil’s sham while showing forth His own power and manifesting His glory. God will demonstrate that He alone knows the future; that is what these chapters teach us. And the simple deduction is that if He knew, foretold, and interpreted these great events as to the future of men and nations, He knows everything, and His written Word is truly divine, and perfect.
Daniel gives the interpretation of the king’s dream, and eight years later Nebuchadnezzar himself tells the whole story, after the prophecy has become history. It wasn’t until a year after he had his dream (v. 29) that he lost his mind, and then for seven years he roamed the fields like an animal, bereft of his reason, until God in mercy brought him back to his senses (vv. 32-34). Thus it was eight years after the dream that the king tells us of his experience, when the once proud monarch acknowledges the true God and praises and adores the One he calls the King of heaven.
Filled with pride, the king, in chapter 3, reared up a tremendous statue of gold, no doubt thinking of himself as this great king, and demanded divine worship. He is still the same conceited monarch in chapter 4, and so again he sees himself as he dreams. Not a man now with the head of gold, as in chapter 2, nor a golden image which he set up to magnify himself as in chapter 3, but now he is a tree of gigantic size. He, the king of Babylon, is that tree (v. 22), even as he was the image in the chapter before. Here is Daniel’s interpretation of the vision:
Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonied for one hour, and his thoughts troubled him. The king spake, and said, Belteshazzar, let not the dream, or the interpretation thereof, trouble thee. Belteshazzar answered and said, My Lord, the dream be to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies.
The tree that thou sawest, which grew, and was strong, whose height reached unto the heaven, and the sight thereof to all the earth; whose leaves were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all; under which the beasts of the field dwelt, and upon whose branches the fowls of the heaven had their habitation: it is thou, O king, that art grown and become strong: for thy greatness is grown and reacheth unto heaven, and thy dominion to the end of the earth.
And whereas the king saw a watcher and an holy one coming down from heaven, and saying, Hew the tree down, and destroy it; yet leave the stump of the roots thereof in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be 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 is come upon my lord the king: that they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. And whereas they commanded to leave the stump of the tree roots; thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee, after that thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule.
Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity (Dan. 4:19-27).
The direct application of this dream is, of course, to Nebuchadnezzar. He is represented by a tree, which is a familiar figure in Scripture of either a great person or a kingdom. We have an illustration of this in Jotham’s parable in Judges 9:8, “The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them.” The Assyrian in Ezekiel 31:3 is likened to a cedar tree with fair branches and of a high stature. In Romans 11 the Gentiles are spoken of as a wild olive tree and Israel as a good olive tree; and, of course, we all know that the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13:32) is spoken of as a tree, with the birds of the air lodging in its branches.
Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar that he is that great tree, with a dominion extending to the end of the earth. But this tree was to be cut down; the king was to become a beast, as it were, for seven years until he should have learned his lesson. And so Daniel, with amazing courage (he that fears God need fear no man) pleads with the mighty despot to turn away from his sins, if perhaps God might give him a reprieve from the heavy doom hanging over his head. It took courage for Daniel to make this plea, for one doesn’t talk to despots about their sins. But it was all in vain. A year goes by, and the king is as proud as ever, taking all the credit for his great empire to himself and ignoring the fact, as so many rulers are apt to do, that the powers that be are ordained of God and that He sets up whomsoever He will. Proudly the king boasts, “Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?” (v. 30).
Then the stroke falls. The king lost his mind, and for seven years became a beast to all intents and purposes (v. 33). But at the end of those years his reason came back to him. How and why? The answer is both simple and sublime, “I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven” (v. 34). No one is really in his right mind until he lifts his eyes to heaven, as God our Savior bids men do, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” (Isa. 45:22). His kingdom, honor, and brightness returned to him, and he praises God in these words which are truly amazing coming from the lips of this once proud despot. This is what he says:
And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honored him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation. And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?. . . Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase (4:34, 35, 37).
The application of this chapter to Nebuchadnezzar is quite clear, but there is, of course, a deeper and ultimate view here, as there was in the king’s dream in chapter 2. We read in verse 12 of our chapter that the fowls of the air dwelt in the boughs of this tree, and the same thing is said in regard to the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 13:32, suggesting that there is an analogy between these two. Both were kingdoms, both speak of evil forces making their home there, for we are plainly told in Matthew 13 that the fowls represent Satanic spiritual evil (vv. 4, 19). We read the very same thing in Revelation 18:2 where Babylon is said to be the “hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.” While Nebuchadnezzar lived as a beast for seven years, his kingdom continued to exist; they were co-existent for those seven years. It is not difficult to detect that same feature in the future un- veiled in the book of Revelation, and no doubt foreshadowed by Nebuchadnezzer’s experience. In the future there will be a “beast” for seven years. He is called that, for in many respects he will act like a beast—wild, ruthless, without any conscience and acting in many ways like a madman, even as this king was insane for seven years. The future beast will not be insane, yet he will act unreasonably. During the rule of this future beast, whom we know to be the king of the confederacy of western nations in the days ahead, there will, of course, be his kingdom, concurrent with his rule. I believe this is illustrated in Nebuchadnezzar’s experience. At the end of the future seven-year reign Christ will establish His kingdom in power and glory. The difference, of course, is that at the end of Nebuchadnezzar’s madness the empire was restored to him, while at the end of the future seven years Babylon will be destroyed. Nebuchadnezzar for a time ruled again; in the future the beast and the powers of this earth shall be destroyed. One other thing is alike in both Daniel and Revelation, and that is that Christ’s kingdom will have come and, like Nebuchadnezzar did, the whole world shall then extol, praise, and honor the King of kings.
The stump of the tree was left in the earth, telling Nebuchadnezzar that his kingdom was not taken from him permanently. Something like that will happen in the future. While it is true that Christ shall destroy His enemies and take over the rule of this world, yet many scriptures show that there will still be kingdoms on earth. We read for instance in Revelation 21:24 that the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of the heavenly city, “and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honor into it.” Both the Old Testament and the New Testament say a good deal about saved nations and kings in that way; they will be those who turn to God from among the heathen nations during the preaching of the gospel in the tribulation time.
We hear nothing more of Nebuchadnezzar after this, and this, too, has its spiritual significance. He acknowledged Christ’s supreme dominion and when Christ reigns supreme no other name is of further consequence.