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Bible Commentaries

Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Daniel 4

Verses 1-37

Daniel 4. This chapter takes us again into the realm of Apocalyptic. Nebuchadnezzar dreams a fresh dream. This time he sees a gigantic tree, the top of which reached to heaven, full of leaves and fruit. Suddenly a holy one appears from heaven, and cries the command, “ Hew down the tree, strip off the branches, but leave the stump in the ground.” That the dream refers to some individual is clear, for the “ holy one” continues, “ Let his portion be with the beasts. Let his heart be changed from a man’ s, and let a beast’ s heart be given unto him.” Daniel, who is summoned to interpret the vision, informs the king that the dream refers to himself. He is the tree which is soon to be cut down. For his pride madness will overtake him, and his portion will be with the beasts of the field for seven years.

There are two difficulties about this chapter, the one connected with the form, the other connected with the subject-matter. The form differs in the Heb. and the LXX. In the Heb. the story is told in the form of an edict issued by the king. “ Nebuchadnezzar the king unto all peoples.” The LXX, on the other hand, omits Daniel 4:1-3, which introduces the edict, and begins with Daniel 4:4. Charles prefers the LXX (Cent. B, p. 37). There is a much greater difficulty with regard to the subject-matter. The king’ s madness takes the form of lycanthropy, i.e. the sufferer imagines himself to be an animal. We have considerable evidence that such a disease was known in ancient time (CB, p. 58), but there is not a shred of testimony to show that Nebuchadnezzar ever suffered in this way. If the affliction lasted for seven years, the silence of the Inscriptions is inexplicable. Probably the author is embodying a floating tradition. We know from Eusebius that Nebuchadnezzar is said to have imprecated the same fate upon Cyrus, whom he foresaw in a vision to be the destined overthrower of his empire. The words ascribed to him by Megas-thenes, from whom Eusebius quotes, are, “ Would that some whirlpool or flood might destroy him or else that he might be driven through the desert where wild beasts seek their food and birds fly hither and thither.” Many scholars think that our author has transferred to Nebuchadnezzar the doom with which he threatened Cyrus, but the evidence is obscure. The motive of the chapter is obvious. If God struck down Nebuchadnezzar in the zenith of his power, he can bring a similar downfall upon Antiochus Epiphanes. It is a significant fact that Antiochus was sometimes called Epimanes (madman) instead of Epiphanes (illustrious).

Daniel 4:1-4 and Daniel 4:6 f. are omitted in the LXX.

Daniel 4:8 . according to the name of my God: this phrase assumes that the word Belteshazzar is derived from Bel, a Babylonian deity, but the more correct interpretation of the term regards the first three letters as part of the word balatsu, “ my life.” The writer, therefore, makes the king a victim of a false etymology.— spirit of the holy gods: the king here speaks as a polytheist, though elsewhere in the chapter ( Daniel 4:3; Daniel 4:34 f.) he uses the language of monotheism.

Daniel 4:10 . a tree in the midst: cf. the vision of the cedar of Lebanon to which the glory of Assyria is likened ( Ezekiel 31:3-14).

Daniel 4:13 . a watcher: this term is used to denote a class of angels who were always on the watch to carry out the commands of God. The term frequently occurs in the Apocryphal literature, especially in the Book of Enoch.— a holy one: also a title for an angel. Both terms refer to the same individual.

Daniel 4:15 . let his portion: the metaphor is here changed, and the remaining words of the description apply to the person designated by the tree, i.e. the king, and not to the tree itself.

Daniel 4:16 . Seven times: seven years.

Daniel 4:17 . the demand: lit. the matter. Charles translates, “ the word of the holy ones is the matter in question.”

Daniel 4:22 . For this description of Nebuchadnezzar’ s power, cf. Daniel 2:37 f.

Daniel 4:26 . they commanded: i.e. the watchers.— the heavens: i.e. God ( cf. Luke 15:18; Luke 15:21).

Daniel 4:27 . break off thy sins: lit. redeem thy sins.— righteousness: almost equivalent to “ good works” ( cf. Matthew 6:1). The idea suggested here, as often in the Apocrypha, is that sin may be atoned for by good works.— a lengthening of thy tranquillity: or, “ a healing of thine error” ( mg.) .

Daniel 4:34 . At the end of the days: after seven years.

Daniel 4:35 . army of heaven: hosts of heavenly beings.— those that walk in pride: sums up the point and moral of the whole chapter.

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Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Daniel 4". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.