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Bible Commentaries
Daniel 4

Ironside's Notes on Selected BooksIronside's Notes

Verses 1-37

Chapter Four Nebuchadnezzar's Humbling

In Job 33:14-17, we are told, “God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed, Then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, That he may withdraw man from his purpose [or work], and hide pride from man.” This is how God often speaks to men who will not open a Bible to receive the clear revelation of His will. He has many ways of reaching those who seem bent on their own destruction.

In the passage from Job, Elihu goes on to show that when dreams and visions do not avail, God sometimes allows disease to grip the body until the poor sinner is broken in spirit and crushed in heart. Then “He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; He will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light” (Job 33:27-28).

The fourth chapter of Daniel is a remarkable example of God’s matchless grace and illustrates most preciously the words of Elihu to Job. The first time God spoke to Nebuchadnezzar He gave him the dream of the great image of the times of the Gentiles. But the heart of the king was willful, and he continued to go on with his own purpose in his pride and folly. God spoke the second time by the marvelous vision of the Son of God in the midst of the fiery furnace, keeping His faithful witnesses from all danger and harm. But again the proud king kept on his way with unsubject heart and unsubdued will. Now God speaks the third time in a most humiliating manner to this great world-ruler.

This stirring fourth chapter of Daniel was written by Nebuchadnezzar himself and preserved and incorporated into the inspired volume. In it we have the interesting account of the means God used to bring this haughty king to the end of himself and lead him to abase Himself before the Majesty in Heaven. In other words, this is Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion, and it seems clearly to show that a work of grace took place in his soul before he laid down the scepter entrusted to his hand by Jehovah. The account is also illustrative for in Nebuchadnezzar we see a picture of all Gentile power- its departure from God, its degradation and bestial character, and its final subjugation to God in the time of the end. At that time Christ will return in glory, and all nations will prostrate themselves before Him, owning His righteous and benevolent sway.

Nebuchadnezzar set up in intelligence was the embodiment of authority given from Heaven: “The powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1). But it is written, “Man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish” (Psalms 49:12). The king’s madness clearly illustrates the turning away of the nations from God and the corruption of governments to serve human ends. Has not this been characteristic of the great powers of this world? Instead of kings standing for God and acting as His representatives to maintain justice and judgment in the earth, we find pride, self-will, cov-etousness, and self-seeking generally controlling them. All this is pictured by the debasement of Nebuchadnezzar when his heart was changed to the heart of a beast, and he was driven out to eat grass like the oxen of the fields.

But the day draws near when God will assert Himself, and all Gentile dominion will come to an end. Then the long-promised King will shine forth in His glorious majesty. The kings of the earth will bring their glory and honor to the new Jerusalem, the heavenly throne-city of the coming kingdom, and the nations will look up as redeemed men and not down as the beasts that perish.

Even in this present age, history teaches us the value of a national recognition of God’s moral government. A story is told of a heathen chieftain who came from his distant domain to visit Queen Victoria. One day he asked her if she would tell him the secret of England’s progress and greatness. In response, it is said the queen presented him with a Bible saying, “This Book will tell you.” Who can doubt that according to the measure in which that Book of books has been believed and loved by any people, God has honored them? And every nation that has welcomed and protected the gospel has been cared for and blessed in a special way.

On the other hand, let there be a national rejection of His Word, and you will find disaster following disaster. This was the case of the French people, who were among the first favored by Him in Reformation times but who drove out the truth He gave them. He who cannot lie has said, “Them that honour me, I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed” (1 Samuel 2:30).

But let us now turn directly to Daniel 4:0 for a concrete example of all this. It begins with: “Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth.” This verse touches my heart in a most striking way. I realize that I am reading the personal testimony of one who was in some respects the greatest monarch this world has ever known. I am privileged to have his own account of how he-a proud, self-willed man-was brought to repentance and to the saving knowledge of the God of all grace. For I gather from this proclamation that a divine work was accomplished in Nebuchadnezzar’s soul by God who, in mercy, had revealed Himself to him.

What a wonderful miracle this is! The fact is, every conversion is a miracle-every soul that is saved knows what it is to be dealt with in supernatural power. It is God alone who changes men like this. He picks up a vile, wretched sinner and makes him a holy, happy saint. He works in the drunkard’s soul and changes him to a sober, useful member of society. He breaks down the proud and stubborn, and they become meek and lowly. Are not these things miracles? Surely, and they are being enacted all around us. Yet men sneer and say the miraculous never happens in this law-controlled, workaday world of ours! Oh that men might have their eyes opened to see, and their ears to hear, what God in His grace is doing on the basis of His blessed Son’s offering for sin on the cross!

“I thought it good,” Nebuchadnezzar continued, “to shew the signs and wonders that the 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” (2-3). What a splendid confession this is and how different from his previous acknowledgments in chapters 2-3! His conscience has been reached now; he knows God for himself and delights to tell of His signs and wonders wrought toward him! He acknowledges Him now not as a god, but as the one true and living God whose kingdom rules over all and will continue forevermore. Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony does not refer to the mediatorial kingdom of Christ, but to God’s moral government of the universe, which nothing ever alters.

Now I would like to be personal and press some questions home to each reader. Do you have any word of testimony about the signs and wonders that the high God has worked for you? Have you ever been brought into direct contact with Him, so that you can speak confidently of what He has done for your soul? Have you been humbled by seeing yourself as a lost sinner before Him? Have you taken that place-your only rightful place-and acknowledged that you are unclean and in dire need of sovereign mercy? And do you know what it is to have fled for refuge to the very God against whom you have sinned so grievously and to have found in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, a hidingplace from the judgment your sins deserved?

I implore you, do not attempt to avoid these questions. If you cannot answer yes to each one, stop and ponder them again; ask yourself if there is any valid reason why you should continue to neglect God’s way of salvation and leave your soul in jeopardy. Oh that Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony might speak loudly to your heart and conscience if you are still a stranger to the God he had learned to adore. Something very definite had been done for his soul; he delighted to tell of it and to give an answer to every man as to the reason of the hope that was in him.

Before God awakened him, he had been “at rest in [his] house, and flourishing in [his] palace” (4). Think of that! At rest and flourishing while still in his sins and a stranger to God. There is a deceitful rest, a deceitful peace, which lulls many a soul into a false security. To be untroubled is no evidence of safety. To be at peace does not prove that all is well. I once caught hold of a blind man and drew him back just in time to keep him from plunging headlong into an open cellarway. He thought all was well and was in peace of mind as he walked along, yet two more steps and he would have gone down! Be sure that your peace is founded on the blood of Christ shed on the cross; then you will have that peace which is true and lasting. Every other is false and fleeting. The peace of God is that which comes from relying on the testimony of God and follows the confession of sins that have separated the soul from Him.

Nebuchadnezzar told us how he was aroused from that false security in which he had dwelt for so long. “I saw a dream,” he said, “which made me afraid, and the thoughts upon my bed and the visions of my head troubled me” (5). The vision was sent for this very purpose. God saw that he needed to be troubled-he needed to be awakened from his sleep of death. It was grace that thus exercised him. And in some way every soul that is saved has to pass through this period of soul-anxiety and concern. Nebuchadnezzar as before turned to the wrong source for help in his time of difficulty. He called in his magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers, to whom he narrated his dream; but all to no purpose. They who before could not recall to his mind the dream that had vanished, now cannot interpret this one. But at last Daniel came in and the king turned expectantly to him. He told how he had seen a great tree in the midst of the earth. It grew so strong and tall that the height reached the heavens and the sight of it to the ends of the earth. Clothed with leaves and loaded with fruit, it supplied food for all. ‘The beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it” (12). But the king had seen a watcher and a holy one come down from Heaven, who cried out saying:

Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches, shake off his leaves, and scatter his fruit: let the beasts get away from under it, and the fowls from his branches: Nevertheless, leave the stump of his 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. This matter is by the 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 basest of men (14-17).

This was the dream, and the king anxiously inquired if Daniel, or Belteshazzar, could declare the interpretation of it.

The meaning was evidently clear to Daniel from the first. But we are told that he was astonished for one hour, and his thoughts troubled him. It is plain that Nebuchadnezzar’s character had in it much that was noble and admirable, and this appealed to the prophet. He had also been highly favored by the king, and the thought of the solemn judgment that was soon to fall on his royal master saddened him. Nebuchadnezzar must have discerned the anxiety and sorrow in the face of his minister, for he speaks in a way to give him confidence to proceed with the interpretation. He did not want smooth words made up for the occasion. Little though he realized what was coming, he still desired to know the truth. It is a blessed thing for any soul to get to the place where he can say: “Give me God’s Word, and let me know it is His Word, and I will receive it, no matter how it cuts, and interferes with my most cherished thoughts.”

“My lord,” answered Daniel, “the dream be to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies” (19). He then goes on to explain that the great tree represented Nebuchadnezzar himself, who had been set by God in a special place of prominence in the earth as the head of all peoples and dominions. The cutting down of the tree signified that he was to be humbled to the very lowest depths, even to being driven from among men. His dwelling was to be with the beasts of the field, where he would eat grass as oxen and be wet with the dew of heaven, until seven times had passed over him-until he knew that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to whomsoever He will. But the fact that the stump of the tree was left, indicated that his kingdom would be returned to him after he had known that the heavens ruled. The prophet added a word of faithful counsel; he implored the king to break off his sins by righteousness and his iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, in the hope that the days of his tranquillity might be lengthened. Daniel does not speak here of earning eternal salvation. His advice has to do with God’s sovereign rule on earth and Nebuchadnezzar’s acknowledgment and subjection to it.

All happened exactly as Daniel had said, for Nebuchadnezzar was still unhumbled though he had listened so respectfully to the words of the prophet. One day, a year later, he was walking in the palace of his kingdom, which evidently overlooked his capital. As he walked he said to himself, “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?” (30) Nebuchadnezzar forgot how he was indebted to the most high God for the position he occupied and the riches and the glory of it; he took all the credit to himself. While the word was in his mouth the decree was spoken by a voice from Heaven saying that the time had come when the dream would be fulfilled. The same hour he lost his reason and became a pitiable spectacle, unfit to associate with others; he was driven from men into the open fields where he became like the beasts that perish. This solemn account is not difficult to believe when we remember the treatment generally given to the insane in the oriental countries. Looked upon as the afflicted of God, they are left to wander at their own will, none interfering nor making them afraid.

In all this we see a picture of Gentile power in its alienation from God and bestial character. Rulers and nations who have trampled the Word of God beneath their feet and despised His mercy and grace, refusing subjection to His government are guilty of acting in madness! A great tree towering up in independence toward heaven is a symbol frequently used in Scripture to depict the great rulers of this world. Ezekiel used it as a picture of the Assyrian kingdom. In the New Testament it is used by our Lord Jesus Christ as a symbol of the kingdom of Heaven as it has become in the hands of men.

I want to dwell a little on the phrase “seven times shall pass over thee” (32). It has been used to support the “year-day theory,” which has frequently been put forth by a certain school of prophetic teachers. This is a system of interpretation that takes prophetic seasons and times and says: All days are to be understood as years, months as thirty years, and years as periods of three hundred and sixty years. Now “a time” is undoubtedly a year. Seven times then, would be seven years. If the year-day theory is true, it would apply here as well as elsewhere in the Scriptures. But what would seven times three hundred and sixty years mean in this connection? It would amount to two thousand five hundred and twenty years. In that case Nebuchadnezzar’s madness would have gone on until the middle of this century. But if this is ridiculously impossible, then it is folly to attempt to apply the theory elsewhere, as this is distinctly a time-prophecy. In every instance where any of these time-prophecies have already been fulfilled, and are clearly so stated in Scripture, it is evident that days, months, or years, were always fulfilled literally.

For instance, God said of the antediluvians that their days would be one hundred and twenty years (Genesis 6:3), and in exactly that length of time the world was overthrown with a flood. Suppose the year-day theory had been held by Noah. He would have calculated that there certainly could be no hurry in building the ark since the flood could not come for at least forty-three thousand two hundred years, or one hundred and twenty prophetic years of three hundred and sixty literal years each.

God also told Moses that the children of Israel, because of their unbelief, would wander in the wilderness for forty years, according to the number of the days in which they had searched the land (Numbers 14:33-34). Now here we might be supposed to have authority for this year-day theory, but on the contrary, we have the very opposite. Days mean days, and years mean years.

In the book of Ezekiel the prophet was told to lie on his left side for three hundred and ninety days, that he might bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. Then he was to lie on his right side forty days to bear the iniquity of the house of Judah; God adds “I have appointed thee each day for a year” (Ezekiel 4:6). This passage is often adduced as evidence of the scripturalness of the year-day theory. But surely it gives no cause to reason that wherever times and seasons are specified in the prophetic scriptures the principle of a day signifying a year can be relied on as correct. The great prophecy of the seventy weeks (Daniel 9:0) might appear to support this theory, but as we will see the term week does not necessarily refer to seven days at all.

The fact is that all kinds of contradictory systems have been built on this year-day conception. Dates have been set again and again for the second coming of the Lord and the fulfillment of other prophetic events, only to result in disappointment and confusion. It gives occasion to the enemies of the truth to blaspheme when the dates specified have passed away with nothing of importance occurring on them. The whole theory rests on supposing something that God had never revealed.

In the instance before us Daniel declared that the king would be mad until seven times had passed over him. In exactly seven years Nebuchadnezzar lifted up his eyes, and his reason returned to him. He saw that God had been dealing with him-he learned his lesson. He blessed the most high God and turned to Him in repentance, acknowledging Him as his God. Then he wrote out this account of his conversion, that others might also be humbled before the only true God and bless Him for His mercy.

Thus will it be with the spared nations after the judgments that are to take place in the time of the end. Nebuchadnezzar aptly typifies all Gentile power-haughty, insolent, and Heaven-defying. Forgetting God, the true source of authority and power, it has become like the beasts of the earth. You know something of its course since it crucified the Lord of glory. The nations have been mad-as utterly bereft of all true reason as was the demented king of Babylon. But the day is coming when God, in His grace, is going to end all this and deliver a groaning world from the evils of selfish despotism and national jealousies. Christ’s personal return from Heaven will conclude the long period of Gentile misrule. Creation groans for the hour when the one true King-our Lord Jesus Christ-will be revealed. “In his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15).

The blessed Potentate is the truly happy ruler! The world has never seen a happy potentate in the past. Shakespeare’s line has passed into a proverb, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” But in the days when our Lord Jesus Christ takes the rod of power and reigns in righteousness, the world, for the first time, will see a happy Potentate. Who can measure the happiness of the Son of God when He descends to take the kingdom for which He has waited so long; and He will have His own beloved bride with Him to share His glory! Then “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:11).

Those will be the days of Heaven on earth when “the time of the singing” (Song of Song of Solomon 2:12) will have come, and all redeemed creation will rejoice beneath Immanuel’s rule. Our translators have put in two little words in that verse which do not belong there. They have made it say, “The time of the singing of birds is come.” Oh, how they have weakened it! It should simply read, “The time of the singing is come”-the time when the heavenly saints will be sounding His praises from the glory, and when Israel, blessed on the earth, will rejoice in His lovingkindness. In that day of the gladness of His heart all creation will fall at His feet to worship, and He will joy over them with singing. Then He will show who is that happy and only Potentate. The phrase, “the blessed [happy] … Potentate” excludes all sorrow and disappointment. That “only Potentate” excludes every other ruler. Many crowns will be on His head. Every other crown will be cast at His feet, and He will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. That will be a happy day for those who have humbled themselves and who, like Nebuchadnezzar, have acknowledged the righteousness of His dealings with them. Those who have confessed their sins before Him will exclaim with joy when He descends in majesty, “This is our God; we have waited for him” (Isaiah 25:9). Of such He will cry with rejoicing, “Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice” (Psalms 50:5).

Before that day dawns, it is the path of wisdom to “kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little” (Psalms 2:12). Have you kissed the Son? Have you bowed in contrition at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ, trusted Him as your own Savior, and owned Him as your rightful Lord? If you have, you can look up and say with happy confidence, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20). But whether you have or not, the Lord Jesus is coming-coming very soon, and unhappy indeed will be your state for all eternity if He find you in your sins, a stranger to God and to grace. “Because there is wrath, beware lest he take thee away with his stroke: then a great ransom cannot deliver thee” (Job 36:18). That ransom is available now to all who believe in Him. In the day of Christ’s return His precious blood will not be offered for salvation to those who have despised the Spirit of grace and refused to heed the gospel message.

O, do not let the word depart,

And close thine eyes against the light;

Poor sinner, harden not thy heart;

Thou would’st be saved-why not to-night?

The world has nothing new to give,

It has no true, no pure delight;

Look now to Jesus Christ, and live;

Thou would’st be saved-why not to-night?

Our blessed Lord refuses none

Who would to Him their souls unite;

Believe, obey, the work is done;

Thou would’st be saved-why not to-night?

Elizabeth Reed

Bibliographical Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Daniel 4". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/isn/daniel-4.html. 1914.
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