Adam Clarke Commentary
Nebuchadnezzar, after having subdued all the neighboring countries, and greatly enriched and adorned his own, became so intoxicated with his prosperity, as to draw down upon himself a very remarkable judgment, of which this chapter gives a particular account, in the very words of the edict or proclamation which the Babylonish monarch issued on his restoration to the throne. This state document begins with Nebuchadnezzar's acknowledging the hand of God in his late malady, Daniel 4:1-3. It then gives an account of the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, which portended the loss of his kingdom and reason for seven years, on account of his pride and arrogance, Daniel 4:4-18. So it was explained by Daniel, Daniel 4:19-27, and so it was verified by the event, Daniel 4:28-33. It then recites how, at the end of the period fixed by the God of heaven for the duration of his malady, the Chaldean monarch became sensible of his dependence on the Supreme Being, and lifted up has eyes to heaven in devout acknowledgment of the sovereign majesty of the King of kings, the Ruler of the earth, whose dominion alone is universal, unchangeable, and everlasting, Daniel 4:34-37.
Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people - This is a regular decree, and is one of the most ancient on record; and no doubt was copied from the state papers of Babylon. Daniel has preserved it in the original language.
I thought it good to show - A part of the decree was a recital of the wonders wrought by the hand of the true God in his kingdom and on his person.
How great are his signs! - There are no preternatural signs like his! His wonders - miraculous interferences, are mighty - they surpass all human power. He is the Sovereign of all kings, and his dominion is everlasting; and every generation is a proof of his all-governing influence. These are very fine sentiments, and show how deeply his mind was impressed with the majesty of God.
I - was at rest - I had returned to my palace in Babylon after having subdued Syria, Phoenicia, Judea, Egypt, and Arabia. It was probably these great conquests that puffed him up with pride, and brought that chastisement upon him which he afterwards describes. See the dream of the emblematical tree explained.
I saw - a tree - This vision Nebuchadnezzar says made him afraid. What a mercy it is that God has hidden futurity from us! Were he to show every man the lot that is before him, the misery of the human race would be complete.
Great men and princes are often represented, in the language of the prophets, under the similitude of trees; see Ezekiel 17:5, Ezekiel 17:6; Ezekiel 31:3, etc.; Jeremiah 22:15; Psalm 1:3; Psalm 37:35.
A watcher and a holy one - These are both angels; but, according to the Chaldean oracles, of different orders. They appear, according to their opinions, to be a kind of judges of human actions who had the power of determining the lot of men; see Daniel 4:17.
Hew down the tree - As the tree was to be cut down, the beasts are commanded to flee away from under his branches. His courtiers, officers, etc., all abandoned him as soon as his insanity appeared; but he soon fled from the society of men.
Let his heart be changed - Let him conceive himself to be a beast, and act as such, herding among the beasts of the field.
Let seven times pass over him - Let him continue in this state for seven years. I knew a man who was thus changed in his heart - in his imagination. He believed himself to be a bear, and would imitate the ursal growl, etc.; and the case did not appear to be hypochondriacal. Whether he ever came to sound mind, I know not.
This matter is by the decree of the watchers - See on Daniel 4:13; (note).
The Most High ruleth - He never leaves the government of the world to man, to second causes, or to fortuitous occurrences. What are thus called are his agents; they are no moving causes.
And setteth up - the basest of men -
"Tyrants and kings from Jove proceed
Those are permitted, these decreed."
The throne ennobles no man: to be properly filled, the man must be noble. Some of the greatest and some of the meanest of men have sat on the throne. Kings differ in education, seldom in intellect, from the common mass of men; the power and authority are from God. The king himself may be given either in mercy or in wrath. When James II ruled this kingdom, it might well be said, God hath set up over it the basest of men. His successor was one of the best. The former nearly ruined it both in a civil and religious point of view; the latter was the means of restoring it in both these respects.
Daniel - was astonied for one hour - He saw the design of the dream, and he felt the great delicacy of interpreting it. He was not puzzled by the difficulties of it. He felt for the king, and for the nation; and with what force and delicacy does he express the general portent; "The dream to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies!"
The tree that thou sawest - The dream is so fully interpreted in the following verses that it needs no comment.
Thy kingdom shall he sure unto thee - No new king was set up; Evil-merodach his son was regent during his father's insanity.
Break off thy sins by righteousness - Do justice. Thou hast been an oppressive man; show mercy to the poor, many of whom have been made such by thyself: witness the whole nation of the Jews. He was to cease from his sins - repent and bring forth fruits meet for repentance, in order that he might find mercy at the hand of God.
Is not this great Babylon - Here his heart was inflated with pride; he attributed every thing to himself, and acknowledged God in nothing. The walls, hanging gardens, temple of Bel, and the royal palace, all built by Nebuchadnezzar, made it the greatest city in the world.
While the word was in the king's mouth - How awful to a victorious and proud king: "Thy kingdom is departed from thee!" All thy goods and gods are gone in a moment!
They shall make thee, etc. - Thou shalt be made to eat grass as oxen. The madness that fell upon him induced him to forsake society, and to run to the woods and deserts, where he lived like a wild beast, his hairs growing long and thick, so as to be a substitute for clothing; and his nails strong and hooked, that he might the better climb trees and grub up the ground, in order to get roots and earth-nuts. It was the mercy of God that thus clothed and accoutred him. His case seems much like that of the maniac in the Gospel, whose dwelling was among the tombs and in the mountains, and who shunned the society of men.
My reason returned - Every thing was fulfilled that was exhibited by the dream and its interpretation. It is very likely that this unfortunate king had so concealed himself that the place of his retreat was not found out; and the providence of God had so watched over every thing, that, on his return to his palace, he found his counselors and his lords, who received him gladly, and cleaved to and served him as they had formerly done.
Now I - praise and extol - It is very probable that Nebuchadnezzar was a true convert; that he relapsed no more into idolatry, and died in the faith of the God of Israel. It is supposed that he lived seventeen years after his restoration. But the authorized Version, which is followed in the margin, states the date of this decree to be b.c. 563, the year preceding Nebuchadnezzar's death.
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