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DANIEL CHAPTER 4
Nebuchadnezzar acknowledgeth God’s eternal dominion, Daniel 4:1-3. He relateth a dream which the magicians could not interpret, Daniel 4:4-7. Daniel hearing the dream, Daniel 4:3-18, interpreteth it, Daniel 4:19-27. The dream fulfilled in Nebuchadnezzar’s loss of dignity and reason for a time; which being restored to him, he glorifieth God, Daniel 4:28-37.
The prophet Daniel here sets down another strange story, after he had finished that of the three young men: this the prophet sets forth not in his own words, but in the words of the king’s own proclamation, that it might pass with undoubted credit, and without all dispute; being sent to all his vast kingdoms, and questionless put into the king’s archives and court rolls, as the manner was. These three first verses of this fourth chapter are improperly annexed to the end of the foregoing third chapter, by some; seeing they are the preface of the following history.
Peace be multiplied unto you, i.e. all health and happiness: this was always the form of greeting and salutation among the Eastern nations, comprehending peace, plenty, with uninterrupted joy and felicity in all comfortable enjoyments: and from them it came derived down to the penmen of the New Testament, and notes more, even peace with God in Jesus Christ, spiritual and everlasting. Now the reason hereof was, that war being the root of all misery, especially where all government was tyrannical, and when once it brake forth, it made all desolate; therefore peace was as heaven in comparison of the hell of war, which made the heathens paint Plutus the god of riches in the bosom of peace.
I did upon mature thoughts judge it very becoming me, yea, it was my pleasure to let all the world know,
1. The signs and wonders,
2. Wrought by the high God,
3. Toward me, wherein I was personally concerned: these were his reasons why he made it known to the world.
How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders! these two words signify in their roots, admiration and astonishment; it seems these works of God had that impression upon this king; a great cause whereof was his ignorance of the true God, together with his own excessive pride and epicurism. God by this following dream, and Daniel’s instruction, had told him his fate, and that no kingdom but God’s kingdom was everlasting, which he had told him once before this, Daniel 2:44.
This confession of the king was upon conviction, and it looks somewhat like repentance, but the sequel proves him to be no changeling, though God made prodigious mutations in his kingdom, and in the form of his person, as ye see, Daniel 4:31,Daniel 4:32 of this chapter; he was metamorphosed to a monstrous beast, and then to a man again, and yet no convert.
At rest when his wars were over, which were great, and he victorious. Then I sat down quiet, enjoying the spoils of my enemies.
In my palace; which was most magnificent, there I lived in all delights and grandeur.
There is no felicity in this world lasting; a black cloud, big with storm and tempest, spoils the fairest sun-shine day. They that fear not God shall be frighted by him. God doth justly make epicures and tyrants uneasy in the midst of their fool’s paradise, where if the fool saith in his heart, There is no God, he shall soon find in his heart to think otherwise.
Though he had experienced before that these wise men were fooled, and could do nothing either in telling or interpreting his dream, Daniel 2:0, yet he will try them once again, possibly because they might gain fresh credit with the king; or he would hear what they could do, and if they failed him, he would then make use of Daniel whom he had in reserve. Perhaps these Chaldean doctors and wizards shunned and scorned Daniel’s company, and he was as much shy of theirs; therefore they came not together; but God had disposed of this whole scene, and, for the honour of his name, suffered Daniel not to be sent for till the last.
And yet this was it they stood upon before, that the king should tell the dream, and they would interpret it, which now they could not do: this shows them to be mere impostors, and that neither their natural skill nor diabolical help could unfold God’s secrets.
Daniel came in before me; whether sent for by the king, or brought in by another, appears not, but he was last, that it might appear he had the true understanding of these secrets; for if he had come first, before the rest had done their best in trying all their skill in vain, they would have said they knew as well as he, and so God would not have had the glory; but now it is plain the Spirit of God in the prophet did all.
The holy gods; he speaks in the plural, like an idolater, and because he calls him
Belteshazzar, according to the name of his god, i.e. Bel or Baal. By the
spirit of the gods he means the spirit of divination, or prophecy of future contingent things, which God only knows, and reveals by his Spirit as he pleaseth, which none of the magicians were endued with.
This argued he was convinced of Daniel’s great abilities, and that he truly deserved the title and dignity the king had honoured him with; and by this persuasion and confidence he had of him, Daniel would show he answered both the opinion and expectation the king had of him.
The visions of mine head; because the fancy and imagination is in the head; and he calls them
seeings, because eyes and sight are attributed to the understanding, and the thing seemed visible to him, as if he beheld it with his eyes.
A tree: those that write of the language of the East tell us that a tree denote some excellent man. Thus the prophet Ezekiel, Ezekiel 31:0 throughout, describes the king of Assyria, and Pharaoh king of Egypt, in their flourish, height, and great fall, comparing them to huge cedars.
The fruit thereof much: this notes the public good and benefit of magistracy; so that it is better living under tyranny than anarchy, as Calvin saith.
a watcher is meant an angel, a holy or good angel, the instruments of God, and his messengers to execute God’s judgments, which they watch constantly to perform, Psalms 103:20,Psalms 103:21.
He cried aloud, and said; whereby is shown the consent of the angels, when one stirs up another to cut down, i.e. to cast out and take away.
Here he mitigates and corrects the former rigour of his sentence, that the kingdom should remain, with hope of return and readmission: God cuts off many flourishing kingdoms to the stumps, by spoiling their riches, beauty, and majesty.
In the tender grass of the field: let the body of Nebuchadnezzar be preserved, and the king doth remain firm, though he be turned out to grass for a while among the beasts.
Let him live seven years as a beast in man’s shape, among beasts of the field, let him become brutish, without human sense and understanding: and this appeared much also in his outward shape; nails like claws, and hair like feathers. Some think that he was truly changed into a beast, but this cannot be, for then the Chaldeans would never more have owned or restored him. Others judge that he was not changed at all but in appearance only to the beholders and in their fancies; but this is a false construction of God’s works, when the Scripture saith it was truly done. It is probable he was mute, and bellowed only, that he went naked, and bowed, and ate grass among the beasts, with whom his converse was: a dreadful example upon the greatest man on earth, for his brutish and raging tyranny, and inhuman carriage, abasing himself, and abusing his honours and great prerogatives to wickedness and savage cruelty, to be thus forsaken of God and men, and to be made a prodigy and spectacle to the world, and that upon record to all generations.
The decree was God’s, and the demand was of the holy angels; if God would enact and ratify it, the angels as commissioners had the dispensation of it put into their hands, and they all consent to it as a just judgment of God, to be executed by them according to the will and pleasure of God; and they desire of God it may be done, alluding to the customs of some nations, and speaking after the manner, for the holy angels are zealous for God’s honour, and pray him to assert his own sovereignty against the bold encroachments of mortal men, especially rampant and savage tyrants, to make them know themselves.
Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men: this Nebuchadnezzar and his flatterers conceited he was god in earth, independent and unaccountable to any; and though he had notions of a supreme God, yet he confined his government to heaven. Jupiter in heaven, Caesar in earth, rules all, said the heathen poet. But the great God will make all men know he rules all in earth too, and sets up at his pleasure whom he will, and plucks them down again. All power is of God, Romans 13:1, who doth often make use of his power in this case, thereby declaring he only is arbitrary and absolute; for instance, he gives this dignity sometimes to the basest of men, as he took it from Saul and gave it David, a poor shepherd’s boy, Psalms 78:70,Psalms 78:71, and made him a name among the great men of the earth, 1 Samuel 2:7,1 Samuel 2:8; 1 Chronicles 17:7,1 Chronicles 17:8.
His thoughts troubled him, because he foresaw such tragical things coming upon the king, for whom he had such reverence for the high favours and honours he had conferred on him, and he was afraid to declare them; these things coming upon him while he was acted by a Spirit of prophecy, doubled his consternation, and troubled his thoughts, Daniel 10:16,Daniel 10:17.
Let not the dream, or the interpretation thereof, trouble thee; speak out freely, let the event be what it will.
Though this king were a tyrant, and an enemy of God and his people, yet the prophet is grieved for him, and prayed for him that God would avert his judgments from him, and lay them rather upon his enemies, Jeremiah 29:7.
It is thou, O king; thou art he that is meant by it. The king is the tree, the branches are his princes, children, and nephews, the leaves are his nobles and captains, the fruits are his riches and revenues, the shadow is the protection which his people had under him. See Aehmetes of the Language of the East. Now in that he speaks plainly and roundly the whole truth, this prophet is herein a pattern to every faithful minister of Christ; first to preach the truth of God and to apply it without respect of persons, and yet with that wisdom and moderation that men may see they have a compassionate care for their souls.
Thy greatness is grown, and reacheth unto heaven; thou art high and mighty in the majesty and splendour which God hath given thee.
To the end of the earth; say some, to the Caspian Sea north, to the Euxine and Ægean west, to the Mediterranean south, for it is not clear that it reached further, and this alone was great.
By saying these words,
my lord the king, he endeavours to sweeten the bitterness of this cup of God’s displeasure as much as he can.
Because thou hast lived a brutish, epicurean life, and wert lifted up above the common race of mankind in thy heart, therefore thy fate shall be, not to be cast out to live among the basest and meanest sort of men, which were hard enough; no, not among herdsmen, as if that were too good for him; but among the beasts, to herd with them. This was such a thundering peal, that it was wonderful the king could endure to hear without wrath and fury boiling in his heart, yet the Lord withheld him.
How hard is it for lofty princes to learn this lesson, that God is the giver of all they have, and will call them to account severely for all they do, and make the kings and kingdoms of the world to know they are his, and not theirs, and that their tenure is but at the will of the Lord solely, who can alter and alienate the property of all their enjoyments, being the high Lord paramount above all!
There shall be no other king chosen in thy room all the time thou livest as a stump of a tree. Thou shalt recover all again, young branches shall sprout out of thee, Job 14:7-9.
After that thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule: see Daniel 4:34,Daniel 4:35, &c. If princes will not learn and know this, God will beat it into them. This is the end of all God’s rods upon them, if they would hear the voice of them, and him that hath appointed them, 2 Chronicles 33:12,2 Chronicles 33:13; Psalms 119:67,Psalms 119:71; Micah 6:9. Though Nebuchadnezzar never proved a convert, yet God made him acknowledge this truth upon his restoration.
Let my counsel be acceptable unto thee: these words Daniel adds out of his good will to the king, if perhaps it might turn away this dreadful stroke from him, and give the king some hopes of mitigation at least, as it was with Nineveh and others.
Break off: the word is well translated break off, for so it properly signifies, and not redeem, as the papists would wrest it, to establish their works of satisfaction and merit; and is no more than this, cease to do evil and learn to do well, change thy course, instead of oppressing the poor show them mercy.
If it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity: Daniel was not certain of pardon for him, nor did he altogether despair of it, as Peter dealt with Simon Magus, Acts 8:22; Joel 2:14,
Who knoweth if he will return and repent? Jonah 3:9; Zephaniah 2:1-3. Though Daniel save not this counsel to elude or nullify the decree of God, which was immutable, yet it might turn to the king’s good many ways, if he followed this counsel.
1. Hereby this judgment was shorter in the time, and easier in the rigour.
2. That he might acknowledge God to be gracious to him in this chastisement. And,
3. That he might become by his reformation more capable of pardon, and prepared for it.
Here we see God did forbear the execution of his judgment decreed the space of one whole year, which may be upon Daniel’s words, and he did reform somewhat, as Ahab was spared a good while upon his humiliation, 1 Kings 21:27; and God would try him by giving him space of repentance, as he did to them before the flood, Genesis 6:3; and to Jezebel, Revelation 2:21; but it is most probable, though he may be a little astonished at the first, when he heard God’s decree against him, yet having this respite, he grew hardened, and thought it was over, and therefore spreads his plumes and strutted in his pride as high as ever.
Great Babylon: as to the greatness of this place, it might be well called great, for most historians and geographers make it forty-five miles about the walls, some sixty; for the height of the walls, they affirm them to be a hundred cubits, and for their thickness, such as six chariots might go abreast upon the top of them. See Bochart in his Phaleg.
That I have built; which words of his are not true, as to the first foundation of Babylon; for that was done by Nimrod, or Bel, which is the same, Genesis 10:10; but if ye speak touching the repairing and enlarging of it after Nineveh was destroyed, so Nebuchadnezzar might be said to build it, i.e. to make it so great and glorious as at last.
For the honour of my majesty: the manner of proud tyrants is to engross all honour to themselves; moreover, he attributes nothing to the signal goodness of God to him, but takes all to himself. Now God, that resists the proud, presently falls upon him, and down he comes while he stood crowing and pruning his gay feathers.
There fell a voice from heaven: this made the judgment more remarkable, and argued the sin more provoking, and the anger of God more just against him. Sudden judgments are most dreadful; whereof we have many instances, as in Herod, Elymas, Ananias and Sapphira, &c.: this voice was from God; it also was loud, and clearly perceived by the king and them about him, which the dream intimated more obscurely. Not the kingdom, but the administration of the government, was transferred to others.
From men; from the society and conversation of men.
He was driven from men; being bereft of his understanding, as a man distracted, he fled, and betook himself to the woods; or was thrust and driven out, either by popular tumults, or conspiracy of his nobles, or by his son Evil-merodach. Some think, when he raved, he was bound with chains, and after turned off loose into the woods among beasts.
And his nails like birds claws, which might easily grow in seven years to a prodigious length and deformity.
Mine understanding returned unto me; God shined upon his soul, and gave him understanding to reflect upon his condition, to consider his sad state, and the causes of it.
I blessed the Most High; by prayer and praise adoring the justice and mercy of God towards him, giving God the glory of his sovereignty and unchangeableness, Daniel 4:35.
A due consideration of God’s infinite greatness makes the creature appear as nothing in comparison of God. Creatures are nothing to help, nothing to hurt, nothing absolutely, nothing in duration, nothing solid and substantial, nothing without dependence, and influence, and support from God. God is
I am, and there is none else.
Verily every man at his best estate is altogether vanity. Selah, Psalms 39:5.
Yea, less than vanity, and nothing, Psalms 62:9; Isaiah 40:17.
He doeth according to his will, Psalms 115:3. God only is arbitrary. In the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; being the Lord of hosts, and the only absolute and universal Monarch of the world.
None can stay his hand; he is irresistible and uncontrollable, Job 9:12; Isaiah 45:9; Romans 11:33-36.
My reason returned unto me: what is a magistrate, yea, or a man, without reason? A brute; as a ship without a pilot, as an army without a commander, as a flock or herd without a shepherd.
Mine honour and brightness returned unto me; instead of the shape of a savage beast, I got the majesty of a king in my countenance.
My counsellors and my lords sought unto me; they who before despised and rejected me now were glad to creep to me, and to know their place and distance.
I was established in my kingdom; in my wonted power and place, owned and obeyed without competitors by all, without question or complaint: see Daniel 5:18,Daniel 5:19.
Excellent majesty was added unto me; he was the most august and magnificent prince on earth, therefore was his kingdom called the lady of kingdoms, Isaiah 47:7,Isaiah 47:8.
Thus can the Lord make the stoutest hearts to stoop, and do him homage. This doxology proceeds from his heart. God is
truth essentially; he is the rule and standard of truth, his words are truth, his ways are truth: and they are
judgment; he is wise, and hath dealt justly with me for my pride, and in very faithfulness hath afflicted me, and in very tenderness hath restored me: I do and ever shall adore him for it.
Those that walk in pride he is able to abase; as he hath declared upon me, in stupendous changes, which I proclaim to all the world for his glory. He had a just controversy with me, and I have no ground to quarrel with him, but to give him glory by this confession.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Daniel 4". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24