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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Daniel 4

 

 

Verse 1

There are a number of words which Bible critics use which sound innocent enough until one understands what they mean by them. Talmud, Midrash, and Apocalyptic are three such words. For example, when Andrews writes that, "This chapter takes us again into the realm of the Apocalyptic,"[1] such a code cliche means, "Of course, there's not a word of historical truth in the whole passage!" There is, to be sure, a scriptural meaning of apocalypse. It is a New Testament Greek word which we have been unable to find anywhere in the Old Testament. "It means an uncovering, a revelation. In the New Testament it refers to the drawing away by Christ of the veil of darkness covering the Gentiles."[2] That latter meaning is indeed applicable to this chapter. God here enlightened the governing head of the whole Gentile world. In keeping with the respect and awe in which the whole pagan world looked upon dreams, God chose exactly that instrument of conveyance for the information that God determined should be imparted to Nebuchadnezzar. It is remembered that the dream was usually the method God chose when speaking to pagans, as for example in the case of Pharaoh.

Why should God have done such a thing as to teach Nebuchadnezzar of the existence and power of the one true and Almighty God? He did so in order that the Gentile world could have no excuse for their terrible apostasy during the pre-Christian centuries. As Paul stated it, "That which is known of God is manifest in them (the Gentiles); for God manifested it unto them" (Romans 1:19). Yes indeed the pre-Christian Gentiles knew God (Romans 1:21); and the episodes recorded in Daniel reveal some of the instances in which God "manifested" such knowledge to them.

It must be admitted that the Chosen People went into Babylonian captivity; and that the purpose of God required that at the end of seventy years Israel would be delivered from captivity and returned to "their land" until such a time as the Christ should be born of the posterity of Abraham. Given these undeniable facts, it was acutely necessary that God should have so instilled the knowledge of Himself and the fear of His Name in the Babylonian overlords of God's People that those all-powerful world rulers would have restrained themselves from the utter destruction of the Israel of God, and that, in time, they should have consented to allow the return of Israel to Jerusalem. In these glorious chapters of Daniel, one is permitted to see something of the amazing manner in which God accomplished those very objectives.

This chapter has the form of an edict published by Nebuchadnezzar to the whole world of his kingdom, following the "seven times" of his insanity, a sorrow brought upon him because of his pride, and which was revealed to him in advance by a dream interpreted by Daniel. The language of Nebuchadnezzar is a curious mixture of polytheistic and monotheistic expressions; but it gives every impression of being true and accurate in every particular.

Outline: the doxology (Daniel 4:1-3), Chaldeans cannot interpret the dream (Daniel 4:4-7); the dream was told to Daniel (Daniel 4:8-18), Daniel's interpretation of the dream (Daniel 4:19-26); Daniel's faithful counsel to Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:27); the events foretold indeed occur (Daniel 4:28-33); Nebuchadnezzar restored after his illness passes (Daniel 4:34-36); Nebuchadnezzar praises the True God (Daniel 4:37).

Daniel 4:1-3

"Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all the peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied unto you. It hath seemed good unto me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God hath wrought toward me. How great are his signs and how mighty are his wonders! his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation."

THE DOXOLOGY

Some critics are quick to assert that a pagan like Nebuchadnezzar could never have used such language as appears here; but such assertions prove merely that the critics are not nearly as intellectually alert as was Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar learned the lesson that the judgment against him was designed to impart. Although Nebuchadnezzar indeed recognized God as the Most High God and so spoke of him here, it is likely that Nebuchadnezzar still fell short of recognizing God as the one and only God. The conception he apparently had was that the Most High God was "the greatest God of all," but not necessarily the only God.

Such language on the part of Nebuchadnezzar also indicates the influence which Daniel doubtless exercised upon Nebuchadnezzar. Therefore, "The theocratic language here is probably due to the influence of Daniel."[3]

The form of the edict as exhibited in these three verses indicates that, "Here is a state paper incorporated into God's Word; this shows that inspiration of Scriptures is by virtue of the Divine authority of the person at whose direction a given word is included."[4] An ass's words are even included in Scripture in Numbers 22:28,30.

Owens mistakenly affirmed that these three verses are actually the conclusion of the previous chapter, "They are the happy ending of chapter three."[5] However, Thomson stated that, "It is difficult to see anything that could even seem to be a reason for such a division!"[6] Our own opinion is that the verses appear exactly where they belong.


Verse 4

"I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at rest in my house, and flourishing in my palace. I saw a dream which made me afraid; and the thoughts upon my bed and the visions of my head troubled me. Therefore made I a decree to bring in all the wise men of Babylon before me, that they might make known unto me the interpretation of the dream. Then came in the magicians, the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the soothesayers; and I told the dream before them; but they did not make known unto me the interpretation thereof."

CHALDEANS CANNOT INTERPRET DREAM

The critics are perplexed by the fact that Daniel was not here called in with the rest of the wise men, over whom Daniel was the governor. However, it appears to be certain that Nebuchadnezzar already had a fairly good idea of what this dream indicated. He, no doubt, had already identified that great tree in the middle of the earth with a top reaching to heaven as himself; and he must have suspected that its being cut down signified some disaster coming upon himself. Under those circumstances, "Nebuchadnezzar wants nothing to do with Daniel's God, until driven to him by extreme necessity."[7] Having suspected that the real meaning of the dream probably foretold some spectacular humiliation for himself, this call for all the wise men except Daniel was likely an appeal for the pagan magicians, etc., to devise something against it. Also, we should not overlook the fact that the text does not say that Daniel was the last one to be called, but that he was the last one to arrive on the scene. He might have been out of town on official business at first.

Concerning the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and soothsayers, Culver stated that, "This school of pompous quacks should long ago have been dismissed."[8]


Verse 8

"But at last Daniel came in before me, whose name was Belteshazzar, according to the name of my god, and in whom is the spirit of the holy gods: and I told the dream before him, saying, O Belteshazzar, master of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in thee, and no secret troubleth thee, tell me the visions of the dream that I have seen, and the interpretation thereof. Thus were the visions of my head upon my bed: I saw, and, behold, a tree in the midst of the earth; and the height thereof was great. The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth. The leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it there was found food for all: the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the birds of the heavens dwelt in the branches thereof, and all flesh was fed from it. I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and a holy one came down from heaven. He cried aloud and said thus, Hew down the tree, and cut off its branches, shake off its leaves, and scatter its fruit: let the beasts get away from under it, and the fowls from its branches. Nevertheless leave the stump of its roots 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 in the grass of the earth: let his heart be changed from man's, and let a beast's heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him. The sentence is by decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones; to the intent that the living may know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the lowest of men. This dream I, king Nebuchadnezzar, have seen; and thou, O Belteshazzar, declare the interpretation, forasmuch as all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known unto me the interpretation; but thou art able; for the spirit of the holy gods is in thee."

THE DREAM TOLD TO DANIEL

The fact of Daniel's hearing in these verses the dream told for the first time surely indicates that he had not been present earlier when the king told his dream to the magicians, etc. There are several guesses as to why Daniel was not then present; but, as far as we have been able to determine, the sacred text has no hint of the reason.

Owens complained that the connection between the names Belteshazzar and Nebuchadnezzar's god "is unsupportable."[9] However, such an opinion is altogether presumptuous because of our total ignorance of which god the name is supposed to suggest. "My god in Daniel 4:8 is of uncertain identity. It may mean Bel as in Belteshazzar, or Nabu as in Nebuchadnezzar, or Marduk, chief patron god of Babylon and of the whole Babylonian pantheon."[10] On this account, we reject the speculative allegations such as that of Jeffery, who ascribed ignorance of the Babylonian language to some "later compiler!"[11] It is sufficient to note that Nebuchadnezzar who gave the name considered the connection genuine. Our ability to understand that connection is immaterial.

The suggestion of some commentators that Daniel was brought in last here in order to heighten the effect of his superior wisdom; but this explanation could hardly be correct. "It suggests the shaping of material to produce certain effects rather than the truthful reporting of exactly what happened,"[12] that latter alternative being, as we believe, what Daniel actually did.

Barnes discussed the singular mixture of monotheistic and polytheistic language in Nebuchadnezzar's words in this chapter, pointed out that Nebuchadnezzar had been a heathen all of his life, despite his also having some knowledge of the true God, and concluded that this unusual mixture of heathenism and true religion in the language of Nebuchadnezzar was "neither unnatural nor improbable."[13]

The reference to a great tree (Daniel 4:10) is in keeping with the fact that, "Great men and princes are often represented in the language of the prophets under the similitude of trees."[14]; Ezekiel 17:5,6; 31:3; Jeremiah 22:15; Psalms 1:3; and Psalms 37:35 are examples of this.

"Let seven times pass over him ..." (Daniel 4:16). The personal pronoun "him" indicates that the words passed over the vehicle (the tree) and focused upon the meaning of the symbol as applied to Nebuchadnezzar. There is a similar transition in Daniel 4:15, where, "The language passes from the type to the person represented by it."[15] It is a fact, of course, that "seven times" here has "a variety of possible meanings."[16] The expression appears to be idiomatic and could possibly refer to days, months, weeks, or years. However, there can be little doubt that the expression, as used here, means "seven years." The Septuagint (LXX) thus renders it.[17] Dummelow gave that as the meaning,[18] as did Jamieson[19] also, and many of the older expositors. Josephus also stated that the expression meant "seven years."[20] Certainly, neither days, weeks, or months would have allowed enough time for the developments that followed.

Some critics have a field day declaiming how this dream that came allegedly from God falls into terminology in Daniel 4:17a which appears to ascribe the decisions regarding the fate of men, not to God Almighty, but to certain ranks of angels said to characterize Babylonian mythology. Even Dummelow thought that the passage teaches that, "Angels are entrusted with the power of deciding the destinies of men."[21] Nothing like that is here. Keil's explanation of this is perfect:

"The heavenly information imparted to the king in this passage regarding the judgement that was to fall upon him from God to humble him for his pride was presented as "the resolution of the watchers," that it might be announced to him in the way most easily understood by him as a divine judgment."[22]

Daniel most certainly corrected any false notion the king might have had about the source of the decision against him in Daniel 4:24,25, where he clearly indicated that the decree came from the Most High.

"That the living may know ..." (Daniel 4:17). The purpose of God is seen in this, that purpose being to spread the true knowledge of Himself throughout the whole Gentile world of that era. This has a definite bearing upon the need for just such a wonder as is here recorded. The king, of course, cooperated with this by giving the decree the widest possible circulation. The purpose of the king's dream and the decree that circulated the knowledge of it was that of, "making known the supremacy of the God worshipped by the Hebrews."[23]

Translators have had difficulty with "stump of the roots" from the earliest times. Martin Luther's rendition has been followed by many, making it, "the stump with its roots."[24] Actually, the meaning is clear either way.

"The sentence is ... to the intent that the living may know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the lowest of men ..." (Daniel 4:17b). "This verse which solemnly declares God's sovereign providential control over the course of human history is the core of the Book of Daniel (Compare: Isaiah 40:15ff; Proverbs 21:1; Romans 13:1; and Acts 17:24-26)."[25] Nebuchadnezzar indeed could repeat this message even before the interpretation; but, "He was blinded to the fact that he was one of the lowliest of men who acted upon the consent of the Most High."[26] It was only after the "seven times" had passed over him that the king could appreciate the full meaning of the dream.

The expression "King Nebuchadnezzar" appears a number of times in this chapter, which is a slight variation from "Nebuchadnezzar the king." Of course, Biblical enemies would like to make a big issue out of this and postulate various sources, or interpolations, or anything else that might be construed as discrediting the sacred text. Leupold discussed such efforts, concluding that, "Efforts of this sort to cast doubt upon the Biblical text must be branded as what they are, unscientific."[27]


Verse 19

"Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was stricken dumb for awhile, and his thoughts troubled him. The king answered and said, Belteshazzar, let not the dream, or the interpretation trouble thee. Belteshazzar answered and said, My lord, the dream be to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine adversaries. The tree that thou sawest, which grew, and was strong, whose height reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to all the earth; whose leaves were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and it was for food for all; under which the beasts of the field dwelt, and upon whose branches the birds of the heavens 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 a holy one coming down from heaven, and saying, Hew down the tree, and destroy it; nevertheless 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 it is the decree of the Most High, which is come upon my lord the king: that thou shalt be driven from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and thou shalt be made to eat grass as oxen, and shall be wet 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 roots of the tree; thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee, after that thou shall have known that the heavens do rule."

THE INTERPRETATION OF THE DREAM

The king's edict here used both the Hebrew name and the Babylonian name of Daniel; and critics seize this as a grounds for destructive remarks; but, on the other hand, this use of both names is exactly what should have been expected.

"So far from being an objection, it is an undesigned mark of genuineness. In a decree to 'all peoples' and one designed to honor the God of the Hebrews, Nebuchadnezzar would naturally have used the Hebrew name (derived from [~'El], God), the name by which the prophet was best known among his own countrymen."[28]

Of special interest is the evidence of mutual love and respect between Daniel and the king in Daniel 4:19. This attitude of the principal characters here is proof that no writer in the days of Antiochus had anything to do with the composition of the prophecy of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar in this passage is so utterly unlike Antiochus Epiphanes that it must ever remain a mystery why critical scholars are always mentioning Antiochus and the need of the people for encouragement in those times, as being pertinent in any manner whatever to this prophecy.

We have already noted that Daniel 4:24,25 were designed to correct the king's notion about the source of the decree against him. It did not come from angels, but from God.

"Thou shalt be driven from men ..." The description here of the king's condition during the days of his punishment should not be pressed as to details. They have the general meaning that, "The king would be in such a state as to be treated like a beast; he would be removed from his ordinary abode, and become a miserable and neglected outcast."[29]

The nature of the king's strange malady is readily identified by a number of writers as "lycanthropy,"[30] a strange form of insanity in which the victim imagines that he is a beast and adopts a form of behavior appropriate to such a delusion. A dissenting view was quoted by Thomson from a famed British medical doctor, David Yellowlees, of the University of Glasgow:

"Nebuchadnezzar's illness was not lycanthropy; it was an attack of acute mania, from which he likely recovered, as usually in such attacks, if uncomplicated, in seven months. In its extreme form, acute mania causes victims to exhibit all kinds of degraded habits such as stripping or tearing of clothes, eating filth and garbage of all sorts, wild and violent gesticulations, dangerous assaults, howling noises, and utter disregard of personal decency."[31]

This quotation has been included here not from any personal acceptance of it as true, but as a matter of general interest. Our own viewpoint is that, since the visitation upon Nebuchadnezzar was a heaven sent punishment, it might not have been any particular disease with which men are familiar. We simply do not know what it was.

Whatever was the length of time that Nebuchadnezzar was deprived of his throne, the government of Babylon would have been taken care of by a regent. Adam Clarke gives us the name of that regent. "Evil-merodach his son was regent during his father's insanity."[32]

The destructive critics gleefully remark that, "The silence of the inscriptions is inexplicable!"[33] Such a remark is based on the fact that none of the monuments or inscriptions uncovered from the mud of Mesopotamia have any report of king Nebuchadnezzar's terrible malady. Apparently critics know nothing at all of human rulers. Do they suppose that Senator Ted Kennedy would have a monument erected to his escapade at Chappaquiddick? or that President John Kennedy would have memorialized his sexual escapades in the White House?

How can anyone on earth suppose that Nebuchadnezzar would have erected a monument to his status while in the throes of that awful malady? Despite that, however, the king did publish the decree which we have before us in the historic Book of Daniel; and this writer believes, along with a great many other conservative scholars, that the discoveries in the ancient Babylonian area my yet reveal a copy of this very decree. But if and when that should happen, the enemies of the Word would not stop denying it.

"Thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee, after that thou shall have known that the heavens do rule" (Daniel 4:26). "Heaven rules is the oldest surrogate for God in the Bible. It was widely used later, as in Luke 15:18."[34] Note that the plural is used here, "the heavens do rule." In fact the kingdom of heaven as written in the Greek New Testament is actually, "The royal majesty of the heavens has approached"[35] (Matthew 3:2).


Verse 27

"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 there may be a lengthening of thy tranquility."

DANIEL'S GOOD COUNSEL TO THE KING

The thought here is not that the king's changing from his sins might avert the experience that had been decreed for him, but that the onset of it might be delayed, referred to here as, "a lengthening of thy tranquility."

Of course, "If righteousness is merely almsgiving or charity, then it is not Biblical righteousness."[36] Keil vigorously complained of a mistranslation here, declaring that:

Nowhere in the Old Testament does the expression used here refer to mere almsgiving or charity. It can only mean to throw away sins and to set oneself free from sins."[37]

The only way in which men may actually do such a thing is revealed in the New Testament, where is revealed to men for the first time the Sin Bearer, even Jesus Christ the Righteous, in whose name alone is salvation possible. Surely, as Young said, "It is a perversion of the text to force it to teach the doctrine of salvation by human merit."[38]


Verse 28

"All this came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he was walking in the royal palace of Babylon. The king spake and said, Is not this great Babylon which I have built for the royal dwelling place, by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty? While the word was in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken: The kingdom is departed from thee; and thou shalt be driven from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and thou shalt be made to eat grass as oxen, and shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee; until thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hair was grown like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws."

From a human standpoint, Nebuchadnezzar had much of which to boast. Babylon was indeed the wonder of the ancient world; and something of the elaborate and expensive nature of the buildings there may be seen in the fact reported by Josephus, that in order to please his wife who had formerly lived in a mountainous country, he erected for her a mountain in Babylon, composed of magnificent stone terraces with trees, flowers, waterfalls, and many other wonders called "The Hanging Gardens of Babylon."[39] Human pride, however, is terribly sinful; and no man should boast of anything. Whatever a man is, whatever he may be able to do, however magnificent his achievements, or whatever honors men may be willing to confer upon him, nevertheless no man is or has anything that is not a gift of God. Culver pointed out that, "The king's last clear minded conscious experience directed his attention upward to that voice from heaven; and his first action following his recovery was to look upward."[40]

Millard stated that the boastful words spoken by the king here, "are reminiscent of the words stamped upon the thousands of bricks he used to build Babylon."[41]


Verse 34

"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 forever; for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom 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? At the same my understanding returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and brightness returned unto me; and my counselors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent greatness was added unto me."

NEBUCHADNEZZAR RESTORED TO HIS THRONE

From this chapter it is clear that God will require an accounting of all evil and presumptuous rulers of their blasphemous and wicked deeds.

From this, it also appears that, "In that very moment when the king was willing to acknowledge the Most High, his reason returned to him."[42]


Verse 37

"Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven; for all his works are truth, and his ways justice; and those that walk in pride he is able to abase."

NEBUCHADNEZZAR PRAISES THE TRUE GOD

"King of heaven is unique in the Old Testament."[43] "In this final statement, Nebuchadnezzar condemned himself before the world in order to glorify God."[44]

The magnificent change wrought in Nebuchadnezzar as a result of his experiences as recorded in Daniel constituted God's bulwark against any attempted annihilation of the Chosen Race during their Babylonian captivity. It is the relationship that Nebuchadnezzar sustained toward Israel during the fateful years of their captivity that accounts for all of the wonders recorded in Babylon. One may very well believe that without the genuine historical occurrences of just such things as are recorded in Daniel, the Israel of God might have been lost forever. There was no way that God would have tolerated such a disaster. Daniel records the Divine action by which God prevented it.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Daniel 4:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/daniel-4.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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